Catholics generally agree that abortion, the willful termination of human life in the womb, is morally impermissible. However, less clear is the question of whether or not it is permissible to abort a child conceived in rape. Catholic morality states clearly and unequivocally in paragraph 1756 of the Catechism “one may not do evil so that good may result from it.” To protect a woman from an unwanted pregnancy by the violence of rape is a good. The intentional termination of an innocent life is always and everywhere evil. Therefore, even to protect a woman from an unwanted pregnancy by rape, if conception takes place, it is still not permissible to abort the child that a good may come from it. Many would disagree, let us look at their objections.
Objection 1: It would seem that abortion is okay in the case of rape because the woman, very clearly, did not ask for this terrible deed to be done so abusively and violently to her. Because the woman was impregnated against her own will, the woman is perfectly within her rights to abort the baby.
Objection 2: Further, it would seem that if the victim carried the child to term, this child, boy or girl, would be a constant reminder of the pain and suffering at which the woman has endured. After all, this is the offspring of a violent and terrible man, therefore, to protect the woman from the constant reminder of her violent aggressor, it is permissible to abort the baby.
Objection 3: Further, the woman with an unwanted pregnancy is not likely to be emotionally or financially stable enough to care for a child properly. Due to this the child will admittedly have an impoverished life, therefore, for emotional and financial reasons it is ok to abort the child.
On the contrary, One of the five sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance listed in paragraph 1867 of the Catechism is spilling the blood of Abel, and this means to kill an innocent person. The church teaches that no good can come from an evil act no matter how justified the act appears or how unfair the circumstances seem. Even in the case of rape, it is impermissible to end the life of an innocent child, not just because he/she is made in the image and likeness of God, but that to ask a mother to terminate the life of her unborn baby, no matter what the circumstances of the conception, is asking a mother to commit a grave evil and a moral crime for which she will suffer immensely.
I answer that, no matter how sinful parents may be, their children are not guilty of their parents’ crimes. No human person is morally responsible for the actions of another. Imagine that a man robs a bank, it would be unthinkable to prosecute his children for the crime. Just so, a rapist who impregnates a woman against her will owns sole culpability for the violent act, and the conceived child remains innocent. Therefore, one cannot punish the child for the ill acts of the parent. Abortion in response to rape is irrational and immoral.
Further, it is clear that when a person commits an immoral act, guilt ensues. Even to abort an unwanted child conceived in rape is a gravely immoral act. There are few morally worse things than the idea of a mother terminating the lives her own innocent children. By natural law there is no scenario where a woman willfully terminates the life of her own child and is free of moral guilt, suffering and psychic torment. If we suggest that a woman should willfully terminate the life of her own unborn child in response to the horrible moral crime of rape, we are doing her a further disservice.
Imagine that somebody gets held up at gunpoint, is robbed and terrorized. By analogy, asking a woman to abort her unwanted child conceived in rape is like suggesting that the mugging victim mug someone else at gunpoint and shoot them. We must never suggest that committing a grave moral evil is a solution to suffering a different moral evil, therefore, to ask a woman to abort her baby as a response to rape is to compound her problem and incur immeasurable sin, guilt and suffering. It is cruel to suggest this for the effects it will have on the original victim, the woman, and even worse for the conceived child who is made in the image and likeness of God.
Reply objection 1: It is indeed abundantly clear that the woman did not bring such a violation upon herself. If during this deplorable event of rape the woman happens to conceive a child she should be encouraged at the least to carry the child to term. What happened to her was unnatural and violent, however abortion, in perhaps an even worse way, is unnatural and violent. Although it may appear that a rape victim has the right to reject the pregnancy, in reality this unfortunate circumstance still leaves the newly conceived child innocent and fully human with an eternal soul. We are never at liberty to end innocent life and to suggest that a woman ought to consider this as a response to the violent behavior of a bad man is to pour salt in the wound, it will hurt the mother victim even more physically, emotionally and spiritually. Finally, to suggest killing an innocent victim in response to a rape is morally unsound. The response to a crime can never be another crime.
Reply objection 2: It would seem that this child is an unbearable reminder of the bodily damage any woman would have to endure from the event of a rape. The relationship between a mother and her child is unbreakably strong, this is why most mothers have a relationship with their unborn children, this relationship is always deeply meaningful. Due to this bond, abortion actually causes post-partum depression and a kind of separation anxiety. A woman creates a strong emotional connection with her baby, regardless of the circumstances in which the child was conceived, and this relationship is a loving one by nature.
Having an abortion is more damaging on an emotional and spiritual level than the rape itself not just because of the depressive consequences of the separation, but because of the gravity of the sin that incurs guilt no matter how ignorant the actor. All of this is exacerbated by the physical damage done which has the potential to damage the possibility of having children in the future. Aside from all this, the truth is that women who keep their children conceived in rape most often report that the child was a vital part of the healing process and a most precious gift.
Reply objection 3: Further, it is completely understandable that a woman who is raped was not prepared or wanting to conceive a child. It is true that the emotional, physical and financial costs are difficult to deal with. We often hear people make the claim that they are not ready for children because they are not financially stable. This is an inversion in the order of goods. Financial stability is not a primary consideration in child bearing as the modern world thinks it is. It is secondary. The emotional and physical difficulties are brought on by the natural occurrence with incalculable added pain by the violation and the rapist himself. These things are best dealt with in a spiritual manner with psychological support far and above material considerations.
In the end there is no reason to directly abort any child ever. The willful termination of a life, in the womb or anywhere else, is never permissible. If we remember that each conceived child is a new and eternal soul made in the image and likeness of God whose intrinsic value is incalculable and that the mother and her spiritual well-being is also of paramount importance, we would never suggest that she do something gravely evil in response to a grave evil. We must never spill the blood of Abel, even if it appears so unfair. Instead, let us promote the culture of life!