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Putting faces on the pro-life message

Stories from children of rape can show the value of human life


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Putting faces on the pro-life message
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As the abortion debate has now returned to the states and thus to the ballot box, so the battle for the minds has begun in earnest. What became very clear after the Dobbs decision was that the pro-abortion lobby focused on those particular examples that make abortion an emotionally difficult thing for many to oppose: incest and rape. And of these, those involving pregnant minors are perhaps the most powerful. An August report in Time on the rape of a 12-year-old who has now given birth at age 13 is only the most recent example. The young girl was unable to obtain an abortion because she lives in Mississippi where there is a ban on the procedure.

Surely no one, at least no one with an iota of compassion, can read such a story without feeling the powerful emotional pull of such a case. Of course, the logic of the pro-life cause renders irrelevant the circumstances of the pregnancy and the source of life in the womb. The baby is a human person regardless of whether the father is the loving husband of the mother or an evil rapist. And the logic of the pro-abortion case, that the baby is not a human person and therefore has no rights, similarly sees the origin of the pregnancy as irrelevant. So why the pivot to focusing on that which is of no principial significance?

The answer is that arguments that trade in abstractions may well be logically irrefutable but they lack the power of the particular example. Just as public opinion tilted towards the pro-life position with the advent of sonograms because suddenly the rather abstract concept of a “fetus” could be seen to look rather like an individual human person, so the focus on tragic individual stories of rape victims makes the abortion issue one that has deep impact upon individual human lives. It puts a face to the problem. It makes it particular. It makes it real.

The intellectual argument for life is unanswerable. Yet pro-lifers need to win not just the matter of abstract principles but that of concrete realities.

Given this, it is a brilliant strategy for pro-abortion groups to push as many of these stories and these faces into the public eye. It forces the pro-life lobby onto the defensive, and it makes a powerful bid for control of the language of love and compassion. It is one thing to debate abstractions, another to look a young teenage rape victim or her mother in the eye and still claim that abortion is wrong.

It is therefore a call to action for the pro-life lobby. The intellectual argument for life is unanswerable. Yet pro-lifers need to win not just the matter of abstract principles but that of concrete realities. Ironically, Peter Singer, radical advocate of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia could not live consistently with his own principles when it came to his own mother in her old age. But mothers are not persons in the abstract. They are persons with faces and stories, as are the victims of rape and incest.

We need, therefore, to acknowledge the power of the stories such as that told by Time and never lose sight of compassion for the rape victims. We need the stories of the children of rape who have gone on to bring joy and beauty into this world, in defiance of the ugliness and evil of their origin. We need adoptive parents talking about how they took on such children when the mothers, for understandable reasons, felt they could not. In short, we need to put faces to the pro-life cause. It is those faces, not the philosophical abstractions, that people will remember when they enter the voting booth.


Carl R. Trueman

Carl R. Trueman taught on the faculties of the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen before moving to the United States in 2001 to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18 he was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.  Since 2018, he has served as a professor at Grove City College. He is also a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor at First Things. Trueman’s latest book is the bestselling The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. He is married with two adult children and is ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.


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