But is that really an accurate assessment? I don't think it is. Follow along with me as I delve into the mind of a pro-life Republican.
Let's take the recent comments by the Republican candidate for Indiana Senate, Richard Mourdock:
"I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God," Mourdock said. "And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."He was not saying that the rape itself was intended by God. He is saying that the conception was intended by God. This is actually an important distinction, and if we are to understand why he made these comments, we must understand this. Let's take a good look at Mr. Mourdock's logic.
First let's establish his core beliefs:
- A1: God is the giver of life.
- A2: Human life starts at conception.
- A3: By A1 and A2, all human conceptions are gifts from God.
- B1: Killing a human is wrong.
- B2: By A2, abortion is killing a human.
- B3: By A3, B1, and B2, abortion is wrong and a rebuke of a gift from God.
- C1: God gave humans free will to act as they please free from God's control.
- C2: By C1, all evil acts done by a human are beyond God's control.
- C3: Rape is an evil human act.
- C4: By C2 and C3, rape is an evil human act not ordained by God.
- C5: Rape can result in conception.
- C6: By A3, C4, and C5, conception is a gift from God following the non-ordained, evil human act of rape.
- C7: By C6, the fact of conception as a gift from God is unaffected by the circumstances preceding it.
- C8: By B3 and C7, allowing abortion after a rape is wrong.
This is an entirely internally-consistent belief structure. It is a valid argument—that is, the conclusion follows logically from the premises. Richard Mourdock says he struggled with it, and I'm sure he did. Melding the brute fact of evil in the world with a benevolent God is not an easy thing to do. And I have no reason to think that the reason he holds this belief is because he discounts the emotional trauma experienced by rape victims. Indeed, he probably abhors rape as much as any of us do, and for us to insinuate otherwise is both cruel and inaccurate.
The way to attack a valid argument is to demonstrate that it is unsound—that is, that the premises are false. The premises above are those which are stated above on their own: A1, A2, B1, C1, C3, C5.
- A1 and C1 are religious beliefs and of course have no place in our secular government. However, even if we managed to convince Mr. Mourdock of this, the overall structure of the argument wouldn't change very much: the parts about God would be gone, but the rest would remain because they do not depend on any god to be valid.
- B1 and C3 are ethical statements that I think most people would agree with.
- C5 is a statement of fact.
This really shouldn't be a surprise. And yet we react to these conclusions as if it stemmed from a callousness towards rape victims, rather than from the overriding concern of killing an innocent human. Although I haven't asked him or other pro-life individuals about this, I would assume that they would suggest psychological counseling to help the rape victim deal with the pregnancy, and to give the child up for adoption once it has been born. (Though pro-life Republicans aren't well-known for such consideration, unfortunately.) But to them, government restriction on abortion is no different than a restriction on murder. And with the premise that life starts at conception, this is an entirely valid conclusion.
Though making them sound like they hate rape victims and women on this issue may be politically expedient, the more important discussion to be having is around the issue of when human life begins. This is sometimes framed as a personal, religious issue, but it really isn't. There are real aspects of human development that allow us to make these determinations, as I discussed in my post on abortion rights and personhood. The way forward is to convince people that a ball of loosely-organized cells is not in any way like a fully-formed baby, and at the very least, show people that the only reason they might think differently is based on religious beliefs that shouldn't be forced on others.
I urge everyone to critically examine comments like these and trace them back to their premises. Judging them based only on our own premises and looking only at the surface remarks is not particularly helpful to us as a society, even if they have some political resonance (e.g. "you didn't build that", said by President Obama, which was referring to the schools and infrastructure that businesses rely on, not the business itself). If we can understand why someone holds the position that they do and argue on that basis, we'd have much a healthier political discourse.