Why Emphasizing Rape in the Abortion Debate Can Be Problematic

For a majority of women, getting pregnant is a choice that they are happy to make. But for some women that choice is made for them.

Getting pregnant by rape is not as uncommon as some politicians would have you believe—politicians like Todd Akin, a former U.S. congressman from Missouri, who's claimed that it’s "very rare" for a raped woman to become pregant because "if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Yes, he actually said that.

 Todd Akin

One out of every 6 women is the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. And according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a single act of rape has a roughly 1 in 20 chance of resulting in pregnancy in victims aged 12 to 45 who are not using birth control. That works out to an estimated 32,101 pregnancies by rape each year. And the real number is likely higher given how many victims never come forward.

rainn statistic

Like anyone who gets pregnant, these women are faced with the choice of keeping their pregnancy or terminating it. However, unlike most others, their pregnancy was the product of force.

Pro-choice advocates often argue that abortion should be legal because, among other things, some women get pregnant by rape or incest. And a poll commissioned by The Huffington Post found that 74 percent of the public agrees with that.

But the "advantages" of this argument may outweigh the benefits.

The argument that abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest suggests the case for safe and legal abortions isn't as strong for a woman who did not get pregnant by rape. It effectively states that only women who had no choice in getting pregnant deserve to have the choice of whether they keep that pregnancy or not. That leaves about 2.8 million women who get pregnant by accident in a position where they feel as though they don’t have a choice, or that their choice is less worthy. The right to an abortion should not be circumstantial.

pro-choice rally

This line of argument also, paradoxically, removes a woman's choice. When a debate is centered around the belief that women should be allowed to have an abortion if they have been raped, it’s pretty obvious what the person making that argument believes should be done. Even Republicans, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have stated: "I believe that if a woman has been raped, that is a birth and a pregnancy that she should be able to terminate.’

chris christie

In a survey conducted by the Elliot Institute, 43 percent of rape victims felt pressured to have an abortion. The same survey found that a majority of women who have had abortion said that it increased their trauma.

The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence states that it is critical for rape crisis centers to allow the victim to regain bodily autonomy at their own pace and to fully support their decision with regards to keeping or terminating a pregnancy. For the safety and well-being of women, the pro-choice movement needs to emphasize that it is in fact choice that matters.