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What rape takes away from a woman, abortion can not restore.

Firm statistics show that in the entire United States in one year, no more than ~500 women become pregnant from assault rape.

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.

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

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 that remained 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."

What rape takes away from a woman, abortion cannot restore.

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 naïve 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 center 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." [Citizen Magazine; October 2000]

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.