Monday, June 3, 2013

The wrong question about abortion

There are people who claim to be resolutely against abortion in all cases. A standard ploy to gauge the depth of these people’s conviction on this issue is to pose the question, ‘what if your own daughter became pregnant after being raped?’ Rick Santorum was asked this question during the 2012 Republican Primary race, and he, like others in his situation, answered that he would counsel her to keep the baby. Following exchanges like this, everyone congratulates themselves on having asked and answered such a tough, enlightening question.

I’m not impressed.

To explain why, I’m going to don my biologist hat. Let’s look at things purely from a genetic standpoint.

Santorum’s daughter’s baby, regardless of the circumstances of its conception, would be his biological grandchild. That gives him a powerful incentive to resist her attempts to abort it, even if he normally would be pro-choice (which, of course, he’s not). Seen in this light, asking him his views about his daughter’s theoretical abortion is a pointlessly facile question. Here’s what I hear when reporters ask it: “You say you don’t believe in abortion, but would you still feel that way even if one killed your future grandchild?”

All of a sudden, the stock answer sounds a lot less courageous, doesn't it?

Let’s contrast that question with an alternative question that I’ve never heard someone ask a politician*: ‘What if your wife got pregnant from being raped?’ 

If the daughter chooses not to abort, Santorum’s genes get passed on, very likely with little or no longterm investment on his part. If, on the other hand, his wife doesn’t abort, Santorum will have to invest huge amounts of time, money and energy into rearing someone else’s biological child. That’s quite a different prospect. If I heard a male politician say that he would willingly raise a child that resulted from his wife’s rape, I’d be far more inclined to accept his conviction on the issue of abortion. 

I feel I need to clarify something. Please don’t take this post to mean that I don’t think adoptive parents can love their children just as much as biological parents do. I know that they can and do. My point is that telling someone else to keep a baby, especially when you have a biological incentive for her to do so, is not the same as rearing a baby yourself, especially when you don’t have a biological incentive to do so. Applauding someone for holding the former position is giving credit where none is due.

*If you know of a case where this has happened, leave it in the comments.


  1. I agree--it's a better question. But I also think many men who are dogmatic about their beliefs would glibly SAY that they would counsel their wives to bear and keep the child--but would feel much more conflicted if the situation were to actually arise.

    (And I imagine that many politicians have wives who can no longer conceive--so they would feel safe saying, we would keep the child, because it's never going to happen!)

    The true measure would be if they THEMSELVES had to go through a pregnancy--the weight gain, nausea, swelling ankles, sore breasts, kicking-from-within--and the pain and danger of a childbirth if they had conceived through forcible rape. Maybe if Sherri Tepper's aliens could intervene (please!!!???!?!?), we would find out just how sincere these guys really are.

    1. You're right of course (love 'The Fresco' reference!).

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


What are your thoughts? I welcome civil disagreement and discussion.