Rape and Incest are Tragic, But Abortion Doesn't Heal the Pain
by Frederica Matthewes-Green

Opinion polls on the abortion issue sometimes reveal profound moral
confusion among many Americans, such as the people who tell pollsters that
abortion is murder, but that it should remain legal. There is no
ambivalence, however, on abortion when it involves rape and incest.

According to a 1999 Wirthlin poll, 62 percent of Americans would endorse a
law prohibiting abortion except in cases when the pregnancy would kill the
woman or when it is the result of rape or incest. Remove that last clause,
and support for the pro-life position drops 30 points.

It seems like common sense. Sexual violence is a nightmare. Dragging it
out for nine months of pregnancy seems but an added cruelty. Then there's
the child, for whom the truth about his or her father could be
devastating.

But did anyone think to ask the victims themselves?

In their new book, Victims and Victors (Acorn Books, 2000), editors David
Reardon, Amy Sobie and Julie Makimaa draw on testimonies of 192 women who
experienced pregnancy as the result of rape or incest, and 55 children who
were conceived through sexual assault. It turns out that when victims of
violence speak for themselves, their opinion of abortion is nearly
unanimous-and the opposite of what the average person expects.

Nearly all the women interviewed in this anecdotal survey said they
regretted aborting the babies conceived via rape or incest. Of those
giving an opinion, more than 90 percent said they would discourage other
victims of sexual violence from having an abortion.

On the other hand, among the women profiled in the book who conceived due
to rape or incest and carried to term, not one expressed regret about her
choice. Of those giving an opinion, 94 percent of rape victims and 100
percent of incest victims said abortion was not a good option for other
women in their situation.

"I feel personally assaulted and insulted every time I hear that abortion
should be legal because of rape and incest," says Kathleen DeZeeuw, whose
testimony is included in Victors and Victims. "I feel that we're being
used to further the abortion issue, even though we've not been asked to
tell our side of the story."

Her side of the story starts with skipping a church meeting to go with a
girlfriend to a local coffeehouse. The sixth of eight children, Kathleen
was raised in a Christian home with strict rules against associating with
anyone outside her family's church congregation. So perhaps Kathleen was
naive when she agreed to go to a movie with a young man she met at the
coffeehouse.

Soon after, her head was being bashed against his car window until she was
too weak to resist. Somehow she knew the rape that followed would make her
pregnant.

"I remember screaming over and over again," Kathleen said-a reaction that
brought only laughter from her assailant. He threw her out of the car,
with a warning that he'd hurt her worse if she told anyone. She made her
way home feeling shattered and dirty.

Kathleen, only 16, kept the secret until it couldn't be concealed. When
the pregnancy became obvious, her parents were distressed and her siblings
were disgusted.

"Because I wouldn't talk about it, many rumors started about me, and
everyone had his own interpretation of what must have 'really'
happened." She was sent to a maternity home a thousand miles away.

That's where something began to change in her heart. At first, she was
repulsed at the thought of carrying "this man's child," yet as she felt
the baby kick and move, her horror began to change to sympathy.

"I began to realize that this little life inside me was struggling, too
. . . I was no longer thinking of the baby as the 'rapist's' . . . I now
thought of this baby as 'my baby.' My baby was all I had. I felt abandoned
by everyone. I had only this life inside me to talk to."

Not that everything was easy. The first time Kathleen held her son,
Patrick, she felt "revulsion," because he looked exactly like his father-a
resemblance thatremained as he grew into adolescence.

"The laughter of my little boy often reminded me of the hideous laughter
of this guy as he had raped me." But Patrick kept telling his mother she
needed to forgive, as he himself had forgiven her sometimes-pained
reactions to him as well as the actions of his unknown dad. In the end,
forgiveness set Kathleen free.

Victims of sexual violence need counseling and care, Kathleen says, and
plenty of time for healing. "To encourage a woman to have an abortion is
to add even more violence to her life," she says. "Two wrongs will never
make a right."

Kathleen's association of abortion with "even more violence" gives us the
first clue to why victims of sexual violence might resist abortion. As
Reardon points out, "Abortion is not some magical surgery which turns back
the clock."

What rape takes away from a woman, abortion cannot restore. Though many
outsiders view abortion as a quick and sanitary procedure that takes place
behind closed doors, to the woman it is a second assault, a disturbing
reminder of the invasive violence she already has endured.

"Many women report that their abortions felt like a degrading form of
'medical rape,' " Reardon writes. "Abortion involves a painful intrusion
into a woman's sexual organs by a masked stranger . . . For many women
this experiential association between abortion and sexual assault is very
strong . . . Women with a history of sexual assault are likely to
experience greater distress during and after an abortion than are other
women."

Second, Reardon says, post-abortive women typically feel guilty, dirty,
depressed and resentful of men-the same feelings that are common after a
sexual assault. Rape and incest victims who abort get a double whammy of
these difficult emotions. "Rather than easing the psychological burdens of
the sexual assault victim," he writes, "abortion adds to them."

THE REAL PROBLEM

For victims of incest-itself a form of rape-the case is even stronger. For
these girls, pregnancy can represent their only hope of escaping the
abusive situation. They may have been threatened and beaten; they may have
been told, for example, "If you tell your mother, I'll kill her."

To such a girl, pregnancy may not be the problem. Incest is the problem,
and pregnancy may be the solution-a way to force someone to recognize her
plight and rescue her. Reardon writes: "Unlike pregnancies resulting from
rape, most incest pregnancies are actually desired, at least at a
subconscious level, in order to expose the incest."

Reardon discovered that in virtually every case of pregnancy after incest,
the abortion was not the girl's decision. "In several cases, the abortion
was carried out over the objections of the girl who clearly told others
that she wanted to give birth to her child."

Instead, the abortion was demanded by the adults in her life, and
frequently-for obvious reasons-by the perpetrator himself. Abortion turns
out to be a great way to destroy evidence.

Dr. Julio C. Novoa performed five abortions on three sisters who had been
habitually raped by their father. The doctor didn't suspect a thing.

"When these patients came to my office, they came with a mother, and you,
as a doctor, feel comfortable that the family knows," Novoa said in the
book. "They never, never made a mention or a hint" that anything was
wrong. The girls were between 13 and 19, and their mother facilitated the
incest and the abortions.

The situation ended only when the youngest girl scrawled at the bottom of
a history test that she hated life and wanted to die.

But surely a young girl who is pregnant shouldn't be encouraged to have a
baby, should she? She probably has unrealistic ideas that the baby will
provide her with the unconditional love she craves. She may have naive
fantasies that the child will be like a doll she can dress up and play
with.

"It is precisely the young girl's attachment to her baby, whether
realistic or unrealistic, which ensures with 100 percent reliability that
she will be traumatized by the abortion," Reardon writes. "To the young
girl, the abortion is not an act of free will by which she is regaining
her future. It is the destruction of her baby, her 'baby doll,'
even. . . . Which would the young girl rather have? A baby or a traumatic
surgery wherein she is forced to participate in the murder of her baby?"

HEALING BY ADOPTION

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the most loving thing a young girl can do
for her child is also the best for her own emotional well-being: Give
birth, then place the child for adoption. Reardon cites a 1979 article by
Dr. George E. Maloof, a San Francisco-area psychiatrist who strongly
recommended that children conceived in incest be adopted, not only for the
child's sake but so the original family can begin to heal. (Incidentally,
children of incest are not doomed to be victims of deformity
due to "inbreeding." Such problems typically emerge following a repeated
pattern of incest over several generations.)

Writes Maloof: "Only after having the child adopted can there be some
assurance that this new life will not simply become part of the incestuous
family affair. The family can be consoled by the knowledge that they have
broken their incestuous pattern."

Some women who had children after rape, then raised them, feel adoption
would have been the better course. Kathleen DeZeeuw writes: "I personally
believe that for her child's sake, the rape victim should strongly
consider adoption. That may sound strange coming from me, but I know the
emotional problems that can result from being daily reminded of the
assault. In many cases it may be truly better for the child that he or she
not be subjected to this added turmoil."

Sharon Bailey* saw conflict over her daughter become one of the stresses
that undermined her marriage. She says her daughter "would have had a more
normal life" if she had been adopted.

On the other hand, Nancy Cole* raised a child after being impregnated by
her father and is satisfied with her decision.

"My daughter is now 18, loves the Lord and is happy and well-adjusted. I
have raised her all my life, and I know I made the right decision."

CONQUERING THE RAPE

While it looks at first glance as if rushing victims of violence to an
abortion clinic is the greatest kindness, listen carefully and you'll find
it is not at all what they want.

"The victim may sense, at least at a subconscious level, that if she can
get through the pregnancy she will have conquered the rape," Reardon
writes. "By giving birth, she can reclaim some of her lost
self-esteem. Giving birth, especially when conception was not desired, is
a totally selfless act, a generous act, a display of courage, strength and
honor.

"It is proof that she is better than the rapist. When he was selfish, she
can be generous. While he destroyed, she can nurture."