Thursday, March 5, 2009

Church opposes abortion for 9-year-old rape victim

Fox reports that when a 9-year-old girl in Rio de Janeiro aborted twins conceived in an alleged rape by her stepfather, she "incurred excommunication" on her mother and the doctors who performed the abortion. The spokesperson for the church said, "It's the law of God: Do not kill. We consider this murder."

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised to see the church taking such an absolute position on this, but this scenario is a good test for a moral judgment about abortion; if your theory denounces a 9-year-old--whose pregnancy is the result of a rape and represents a great danger to her life--as a murderer for having an abortion, you may want to reconsider your theory.


At March 5, 2009 at 11:04 PM , Anonymous Christina said...

Perhaps Fox didn't state it clearly enough, but the girl herself is not the subject of the excommunication, nor is she being blamed or denounced for the abortions, because she is so young and (I assume) couldn't legally make the decision for herself (thus the decision was left to her mother and doctors). Nor should the excommunication of the mother and doctors have come as a surprise; it is a clearly expressed part of Church belief and policy that those who willingly obtain and perform abortions incur excommuncation.

These may seem like minor points or technicalities, but regardless, there are reasons the Church views abortion as murder regardless of circumstance. It is OF COURSE a horrific situation for this poor girl to be in--absolutely no one is denying that. But, if you believe that a person is a full person from the moment of conception, then yes, intentionally killing that person would fit the defintion of murder.

Once you establish that, you have to recognize that additional wrongs do not correct past wrongs, but only compound the tragedy of the situation. The rape was a horrific, horrific wrong, but that is not amended by committing the further wrong of ending innocent human lives. This, in a nutshell, is why the Church doesn't allow for abortion in cases of rape: because the circumstances of conception do not affect the innocence and full human dignity of the fetus, and thus killing the fetus is the same as killing a born person.

As to the danger to the girl's life--that really is recognized, but even the certain knowledge of impending death does not justify murder (though, on a side note, perhaps we ought to charge rapists with murder if their victims die as a result). The choice is between taking a risk, and in the meantime working to ensure the safety and health of the girl and the unborn babies, or intentionally killing the babies. The goal in both cases is to save the girl's life; the difference in the situations is the means and the intent of those means. If you choose the former and, God forbid, the girl dies despite your best efforts, that's an even worse tragedy; but the death was not intended and attempts were made to prevent it. But if you choose the latter, you are intentionally killing; the ultimate end is to save the girl's life, but the means employed is the murder of the fetus(es, in this case), and the Church holds that you cannot do bad in order to do good--the ends cannot justify the means.

It is an awful situation all the way around, but, again, if you believe that the unborn child is the moral equivalent a born person, you must view the abortion as murder. We wouldn't allow the murder--intentional killing--of a born person (let's say an innocent born person, so we don't have to get side-tracked by death penalty discussions) in an attempt to "right" some previous wrong, and so the Church cannot accept abortion as a solution to even the awful case of child rape.

So no, it's not surprising that the Church is acting in accordance with its beliefs and refusing to condone acts that comprise of unacceptable means, no matter what the goal. But no one is calling this girl a murderer, so it would be nice not to mischaracterize the situation. Furthermore, in a broad and general sense, I'm not sure that simply calling something murder is sufficient grounds to reconsider one's theory of life, its beginnings, and what we owe to each other (above all, not to purposely kill each other).

At March 6, 2009 at 1:34 AM , Anonymous Victoria said...

This is a misquotation and, whether intended or not, a misrepresentation of the article and of the Church. While your post states that the "she (the girl) 'incurred excommunication' on her mother and doctors," implying that the girl was to blame, the blame is clearly placed on the adults in the Fox article: "The adults who approved, who carried out this abortion have incurred excommunication."

No one's theory is "denouncing" the 9-year old for anything.

I'm sure there's no love lost between you and the Catholic Church, but please do not fabricate accusations for the sake of bashing the pro-life viewpoint.

At March 6, 2009 at 3:38 AM , Anonymous Elizabeth said...

This is a sick, sick justification of pro-life views. That you're arguing over *who* exactly holds the blame (no shit, a 9-year-old rape victim isn't to blame!) and calling her theoretical death a "tragedy" is disgusting. If you didn't get her an abortion, you did not actually do everything you could to prevent her death - the absence of action of criminal, too, and I would argue that the person who withholds abortion from a girl who subsequently dies should in fact be held responsible for her death. You claim that "the ultimate end is to save the girl's life"... not if you don't give her an abortion! Otherwise, you are taking a definite risk, not to mention the huge emotional and psychological trauma a 9-year-old would undergo, even if she survived the pregnancy. If my 9-year-old sister was raped, I would get her the fastest abortion imaginable; to do otherwise is quite simply inhuman, and all the fancy, "logical" rhetoric that you attempt to employ will not conceal that reality.

At March 6, 2009 at 11:29 AM , Anonymous Chloe Angyal said...

Does "mercy" mean nothing to these people? I can understand - though not condone - the pro-life view that it doesn't fall within the bounds of necessary mercy to grant an abortion to a twenty-five year-old with a decent income who had consensual sex and is at no physical or psychological risk from bearing the child. But this is a nine-year-old girl who was raped by her stepfather, who is pregnant with twins and who will probably die in childbirth. Have some freaking mercy.

At March 6, 2009 at 11:32 AM , Anonymous Christina said...

I wasn't trying to argue over who was getting the blame; I was just stating the case accurately. Even on the internet, vaguely libelous remarks shouldn't be tolerated.

And what would not make her death a tragedy?

I get it that you don't agree with me--fine. That's entirely your prerogative, and I don't think any the worse of you for it. But the way I see it, and the way the Church sees it, you can intentionally kill the babies, or you can try to save them all by stacking the odds in their favor. Nor can you affirm life by deliberately taking it.

Yes, negligence can be criminal, but not procuring an abortion is not negligence. If she had been old enough to choose not to have an abortion, or if her mother had chosen not to have the abortion done, it would be horrifically negligent not to give her the best prenatal care possible (not being a lawyer, I can't say if it would be criminally negligent, but it ought to be). Yes, there is a huge risk; but death is not being willed or intended. Prevention of death is being sought via the use of all legitimate means. And if you believe the unborn children have equal human status, then killing them would not be a legitimate means any more than killing someone to use their ograns in transplants would be a legitimate means to save those on the waiting-list.

And just because you don't give a woman or girl an abortion, it doesn't mean your goal is not to save her life. What about the women who choose not to abort their children, in spite of the health risks their pregnancy presents? If the women then die in childbirth, or die of the pregnancy somehow, would you say they committed suicide--that somehow their goal was not to live anymore but to die? Would you say that the doctors who respected their choice to carry the children to term killed them--that the doctors' goal was not, in fact, to preserve the lives of all involved?

And yes, again, I clearly see that you don't agree with me on this one. But please at least try to understand that the whole point of pro-life is equal human dignity, worth, and moral value at all stages of life, conception to natural death. Abortion is entirely contrary to that.

No one is denying the emotional and psychological trauma involved for the girl, but a human life bears a greater cost than human misery (in which case, at least life can be preserved). That sounds cold (and I'm sure you would say 'inhuman' once again), but such is the character of the written words (as opposed to spoken ones). I wish nothing else than that the girl's stepfather hadn't raped her in the first place. The girl, her family, her doctors, and all involved are in my prayers, and I'm sure in the prayers of thousands and thousands of others (the Church included). All my sympathies lie with her; she has already been traumatized. But all of that cannot negate the ultimate value of life, the ultimate equal value of human lives. When I, and other pro-lifers, weigh all the lives involved, we find that they are all equal. How do you choose between equal lives which one to sacrifice? Answer: you don't--you try to save them all, using all legitimate means. And you do not intentionally kill. And if you believe in God, you ask for all His help.

Once again, I know I haven't convinced you, and I doubt I or anyone else ever will. So be it. You are free to believe what you want, and I am free to believe what I want, and we can go our separate ways, and I'll think none the worse of you. In the meantime, name-calling and vilifying isn't helpful. Thank you.

At March 6, 2009 at 3:23 PM , Blogger LSG said...

The reason your arguments are being dismissed and you feel vilified is because we're operating from fundamentally different premises: you believe a blastocyst-embryo-fetus is an "equal human being", and I don't (I think I'm joined in this by Chloe and Elizabeth, and it seems you are joined by Victoria). If we all believed the fetus was a person, I still don't think the moral answer here would be clear-cut anti-abortion, but there could be a real debate along the terms you suggest: is it ever acceptable to kill one human being to save another pain and possible death, is inaction that leads to a person's death morally preferable to action that leads to a person's death, how does one balance probability of pain and death vs. certainty of death, can we evaluate a person's level of pain, and so on.

The reason that we're not having that debate is because I don't think a blastocyst, embryo or early-term fetus is a person, and I don't think its continued existence is anywhere near as important as sparing a little girl pain. I'm spitting fire at your arguments not because I misunderstand them or because I think you want the little girl to suffer -- of course you don't -- but because I think you're operating from a faulty premise, and the actualization of your arguments would result in sentencing a child to psychological and physical agony to benefit something that's not a person -- something that's the "life" equivalent of a tadpole.

Here, I think, the burden of proof is on you: it seems intuitive that something without consciousness, without any mechanism to experience pain or pleasure, and without agency, is not "fully human" even if it has the potential to someday become a baby. Incidentally, I am joined in this belief by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, among numerous other religious and secular figures and texts.

If anyone can make a good argument that an embryo is a full human being equivalent to a newly-born baby, the debate will change for me. Until then, I feel free -- in fact, I feel obligated -- to morally condemn those who would endanger this little girl.

One final thing, on the subject of moral condemnation -- if you think I'm advocating the murder of innocent human beings, why don't you think less of me?

At March 6, 2009 at 6:08 PM , Anonymous Dan said...

I feel compelled to add my voice to the fray...

First of all, I think Christina has done an admirable job of explaining the Catholic position. I also sense that she feels under siege every time someone at EW takes a pot shot at the Catholic Church.

Elizabeth: There is no question that this story evokes strong emotions, and I certainly sympathize with your desire to bring and end to a horrible wrong that was committed against a young girl. But you haven't explained why you think the preceding (Christina's and/or victoria's comment?) is a "sick, sick justification for pro-life views". Christina has rationally explained why she believes abortion compounds the horrible wrong that was done.

LSG: you ask for a good argument about the moral status of human embryos. OK. You could begin by reading this paper:
I'm assuming Princeton has a current subscription to Daedalus, but if not, try this link:

This paper deals with the issue of the moral status of human embryos. The context is stem cell research rather than abortion, which effectively separates fetal personhood issues from the other issues that are involved in abortion.

If you really want dig into this, I suggest you get a copy of "Embryo: A Defense of Human Life" by Robert P. George, Christopher Tollefsen (Doubleday, 2008). This book not only presents the authors' position, but also systematically presents, and then criticizes, every serious argument against that position.

At March 7, 2009 at 4:23 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...

LSG: Real quick to address the whole blastocyst issue. First off, and this isn't meant in a rhetorical way, Catholics don't believe that blastocysts can feel or have any faculties that are in any way comparable to what you define as persons at that point, sure. But it would be absurd to say that whatever is in there is really the "life" equivalent of a tadpole. The simple fact of the matter is that the fetus, at whatever stage, is indeed a being that is able to feel pain and pleasure, has consciousness, has all these agencies that you speak of, it's just not one that can at that particular point in time. How can something be anything but a "full human"? You are operating under this, what I believe to be, faulty assumption. How can we be anything but our bodies? We are nothing but our bodies, so certainly we, who have human DNA, are humans all the time. You were you even before you could consciously realize that fact. And you, your body, would be wronged by an abortion, particularly because you have done nothing that can be deemed as right or wrong; you are innocent. The argument does not call for the potentiality of the fetus, as the kind of potential we speak of normally does not apply. I think people equivocate on this word in many of their arguments. Quick, rough analogy I just thought up that best explains my feelings about this debate.

Clay=human cup=person

You: That ball of clay does not have a handle, doesn't have any concavity, and basically anything else that makes a cup a cup, therefore, it's not a clay cup

Me: Yes, obviously, but you are forgetting that what makes the cup a cup is, while intuitively those things that allow it to hold liquid, fundamentally it is the clay. And, while, of course you would grant rights and more complex liberties to the cup, because of its capacities, it does not mean that somehow the clay ball is any less clay or any less of whatever is the cup. They are both clay.

So ya, really rough, but this is what I'm getting at. Perhaps it is intuitive to think that people aren't fully human until they can have those capacities you describe. But even so, it seems more intuitive, and more parsimonious, to accept that humans are humans are humans at all times of their lives, at all times of their development. There is no time when someone can be more human than someone else, this seems racist, sexist, all those things. What it comes down to for me is that I find calling the fetus anything but a full human absurd, misdirected, and perhaps tainted by the motivation to justify abortion. What I will concede, however, is that once we accept that fetuses are human beings that they are not prima facie untouchable. I think that it is a waste of time to argue about the humanity of fetuses, but certainly worth our time and efforts to debate exactly what rights these fetuses deserve. There are very compelling papers that point out that there are cases when even innocent, full-grown, human adults, which we can all agree are fully human, do not have the obvious right to life that pro-lifers would argue about. I think I posted a link on another comment, but it's by Judith Jarvis Thomson, Wikipedia her. I'm willing to talk about these cases and those issues you brought up, Laura, but the question of fetal personhood seems quite trivial.

Chloe: Also, just so you don't think pro-lifers are a bunch of crazy, radical dogmatics, we do believe in "mercy". Our version of mercy does not include abortion as a way to salvage a life from psychological harms. In our view, true mercy would be for the child to have the baby and love it, and have all those around them love the baby and love the 9 year-old. That is true mercy. For those around her to sacrifice from their own lives because they realize that someone so young and helpless was assaulted by someone stronger, more powerful, and who thinks they can exert that power over others. Mercy is to allow the child to live in peace and love with her family and not cause her more pain and suffering by taking her child away from her. Though, again, it's worth stressing, that in cases where the child's life is in danger, measures should be taken to try to save both lives, and intent matters. It kinda is semantic, really. Let me explain: If someone has an abortion (not medical necessity, just by own choice), certainly the abortion would be a failure if the fetus was not destroyed; the purpose of the abortion is to rid the carrier of the fetus inside, and not just to rid of the body, but to rid of existence. In medical procedures, where measures are taken to ensure the utmost safety of both parties, the intent would never be to rid of existence. The purpose of the procedure would be to save the mother, and in no way would said medical procedure be a failure if the fetus remained alive and well and ready to be taken care of by her parents.

At March 7, 2009 at 8:38 PM , Anonymous Emily Sullivan said...

It is disturbing to me that no one has yet recognized that the birth of these twins, even if it went smoothly, means that two more kids are being born into a household with a now-single mother who somehow did not protect her daughter from the man she brought into the home. Her 9-year old was in danger, yet she is now capable of caring for three times the number of kids?


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