Abortion: The Second Rape
A letter in an issue of your newsletter prompted some reflections on my own experience with raped and aborted women. Even among people who generally abhor the violence of abortion, there is often a feeling that pregnant victims of sexual assault are somehow different; abortion might be an appropriate solution for them. While these attitudes are held in good faith, my experience leads me to suspect that they may arise from unconscious acceptance of the patriarchal values that consider woman, especially victims of sexual assault, inferior.
I myself have had an abortion, and there was an element of sexual assault in that pregnancy. I have, in my healing process, talked with many aborted women, including rape victims. I have also spent a year counseling at a rape crisis center, so I am familiar with the realities of both abortion and sexual assault. I have observed that woman's reposes to these experiences are nearly identical, with a higher incidence of self-blame and of delayed onset of symptoms in victims of abortion.
In every case of abortion after incest with which I am familiar, the abortion was arranged by the perpetrator or his wife, with the purpose of concealing the incest. In one case a young woman had seven abortions before she was fourteen, and the incest continued. She developed severe mental health problems as a result of this abuse, which the parents maintained was for her own good--both the sex and the abortions.
Most incest victims are given no choice but abortion, just as they were given no choice about sex. I vividly recall one victim of incest/abortion whom I met years after the events. She said she still didn't understand why she had to be aborted; it would not have been that much more trouble to see the pregnancy through, and she would have had one less trauma to deal with. I am familiar with no case of incest-related abortion that did not make matters worse for the victim. These abortions are done for the benefit of the adults involved, not the incest victim.
In the case of adult rape victims, abortion is equally destructive. Women report that they are suffering from the trauma of abortion long after the rape trauma has faded. In fact, abortion because of rape tends to be more traumatic than the average abortion. One reason is that the woman feels that there is no option but to abort, and this compounds the trauma of having had no choice about sex. A woman who might never otherwise have submitted to abortion may feel forced into it after a rape.
Although I am familiar with fewer cases of rape victims carrying to term, it appears that by mid-pregnancy there is a tendency to accept the pregnancy, and it is not unusual for the woman to keep and parent the baby. However, she is often revictimized by attitudes which assume that a rape victim should be aborted, and doubts that she was actually raped. What she needs at this time is the full support of those around her, and affirmation of her worth and capability.
Lesbia Lopez, a young Sandanista woman pregnant by after a rape by a Somocista guard, concluded that the child was hers; that to reject the baby was to succumb to patriarchal attitudes; and that to give life and love to the child was proof of woman's ability to endure the rigors of war and participate fully in the revolution. It is often true that to recover from a trauma, a person must develop capabilities that were not apparent before. This is true whether or not the rape victim becomes pregnant. There are no short-cuts, nor can the past be undone. Any attempt to undo the past (which abortion is) will slow or stop the healing process.
After sexual assault there is, for varying lengths of time, a natural revulsion toward anything associated with the rape. This may include the location, or characteristics of the rapist such as his clothing, race, mustache, etc. It is normal for this feeling to attach to the unborn child conceived in rape. However, these feelings normally fade with time. When this does not happen spontaneously, counseling with someone qualified to treat victims of rape trauma is highly effective. Rape victims I have worked with were aware of and distressed by the "inappropriateness" of these feelings. They were anxious to overcome their revulsion of anyone and anything that reminded them of the rape. They would not, for instance, have welcomed anyone telling them that men of their attacker's race are natural criminals. Nor do women welcome being told that their children conceived in rape are unworthy of life, genetically prone to crime, and bound to feel unwanted and bitter. A person in crisis is seeking positive solutions, not a counsel of despair.
In short, abortion hurts rape and incest victims. Most women, even those who see abortion as the "right choice" or the "only choice," experience abortion as a violation. It is a solution imposed by a society that places too much importance on male lineage and not enough on the value of each human being. It is significant that a child conceived in rape is more often called "the rapist's child" than "the rape victim's child." In what sense can a rapist possibly be considered the "father" of this child?
In a society that values men over women, disgrace attaches to any pregnancy not acknowledged by a lawful husband. Add to this the pervasive belief that victims are not innocent of their own victimization, and pregnancy resulting from rape becomes an overwhelming crisis in a woman's relationship with others. It is understandable that she might resort to a desperate act in order to escape rejection by those she has to live with. It is inexcusable, however, for those of us who are not under this pressure to add the surgical rape of abortion to her original victimization, or to fail in giving her our utmost support when she needs it.Joan Kemp
Reprinted from SisterLife