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South Dakota Abortion Task Force Studies Rape Exceptions

Exceptions for rape, incest often proposed in abortion restrictions


By Bob Ellis

Dakota Voice


*The following is the fifth in a series of features Dakota Voice will be publishing which takes a closer look at the report prepared by the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion.



One of the many facets of abortion that were examined by the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion was the “rape exception.”

Frequently in the debate over abortion, when restrictions are proposed, supporters of abortion mention the need for an exception to allow for abortions in cases where the pregnant woman has been raped or is the victim of incest. The trauma of these acts naturally engenders compassion, for who would want to bear the child of a man who had violated their person in such a horrific way? Likewise, incest is often perpetrated through force, coercion, and intimidation; the increased risk of birth defects to offspring of close relations is also a factor.

However, pro-life advocates point out that while they sympathize with the plight of rape and incest victims, abortion produces a third victim: the unborn child.

“Childbirth is less traumatic than abortion,” said Robert Regier, Executive Director of the South Dakota Family Policy Council. “The victim of rape or incest who becomes pregnant is unfortunately in a no-win situation. Many of the feelings that women experience after abortion are the same as those experienced after a rape. A rape victim who testified before the House State Affairs Committee said that her abortion made her feel as if she were raped again.”

According to the recently released report of the Task Force, Dr. J.C. Willke, founder of the International Right to Life Federation, testified before the Task Force in September 2005. At that time, he told the Task Force that only about 0.1% of rapes result in a pregnancy. The report also quotes Willke from his 2003 book "Why Can't We Love Them Both" in which he says, "We must approach this with great compassion. The woman has been subjected to an ugly trauma, and she needs love, support and help. But she has been the victim of one violent act. Should we now ask her to be a party to a second violent act--that of abortion?"

Dr. Donald Oliver, a Rapid City pediatrician who is board certified with the American Board of Pediatrics, also testified before the Task Force. He told of having recently provided medical care for a very young teenage mother who said her brother raped her. Dr. Oliver said that the mother had decided to deliver the baby, and it turned out completely normal, with none of the birth defects that can sometimes result from incest. Dr. Oliver said that the mother had told him that her baby didn't deserve capital punishment for the sins of her brother.

The Focus on the Family website features the compelling story of Heather Gemmen who was tied up and raped in her own home. She said that the hospital gave her a "morning after" pill, which she considered to be morally wrong, but she took it anyway because she couldn't bear the thought of being pregnant from the man who raped her. However, the pill didn't work, leaving her with mixed feelings of relief and horror.

Heather and her husband wrestled with the decision of whether to keep the baby or give it up for adoption, with no mention of abortion. They eventually decided to keep the baby, and she says that by the time Rachel was born, the painful memories of her conception had faded.

Heather now tells her story of the daughter she came to love as a way to tell other women caught in similar situations of hope and healing that can be found.

Regier also quoted Julie Makimaa, a woman who was conceived from rape: “’It doesn't matter how I began. What matters is who I will become.’ Julie says she is proud of her mom's courage to choose life over abortion.”

KELO TV recently featured the story of Megan Barnett, a woman who was raped in 2004 and chose to keep her baby. The story quoted her as saying, "It's a life no matter how it got there and you need to be thankful for that gift of life.”

Exceptions for rape are always proposed when abortion restriction legislation comes before the South Dakota legislature. However, rape exceptions are not approved because they are viewed as inconsistent with the pro-life logic of abortion restrictions.

The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the “rape exception” and this inconsistency back in 1973. It said in Doe v. Bolton, “The protection of the fetus when it has acquired life is a legitimate concern of the State. Georgia's law makes no rational, discernible decision on that score. For under the Code, the developmental stage of the fetus is irrelevant when pregnancy is the result of rape.”

In other words, the Court says if we accept that the fetus is a human life, then the origin of that human life is irrelevant.

“The baby conceived of rape or incest is no less human than the baby conceived of marital intercourse,” said Regier. “If we agree with the premise of HB 1191 that a human life begins at fertilization and that the unborn child is guiltless, then we must extend that protection regardless of how the child was conceived. The guilt of the baby's father does not extend to the child in the womb. It would be wrong to deprive the child of his unalienable right to life and the due process of the law because of the sins of his father. Two wrongs do not make a right.”

The Task Force report was presented to the South Dakota legislature last week for consideration.

Related Reports:

Legislative Recommendations from the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion

South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion Report Addresses Sex Education

Roe v. Wade Assumptions Examined by South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion

Not Available for Roe: Scientific Advances Shed Light on Abortion

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