Throwing the first stone

Travis Knoll

As a Catholic who believes that life begins at conception, I am opposed to abortion, and I think it should be actively discouraged and vigorously regulated. In that sense, I see the reasoning behind Richard Mourdock, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Indiana’s assertion that in cases of conception during rape, “God intended it [life] to happen.” There is an argument to be made that any situation is redeemable, even a pregnancy caused by rape, but to propose that the decision should be left to legislators is tone deaf and at odds with American public opinion.

Only 14 percent of Americans believe that abortions should be illegal in cases of rape and incest, according to a CNN poll conducted Aug. 22-23, 2012. Forty-seven percent believe that it should be legal only in certain circumstances, and 35 percent believe it should be legal in all circumstances. Mourdock also shifted the debate from one favorable to the pro-life cause to an extreme situation. Conception from rape encompasses only 1.5 percent of all abortions, according to a 2005 report by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reproductive health.

This tone deafness and lack of empathy sometimes shows up at pro-life rallies. For example, at the annual Texas Rally for Life that I attended in January 2010 with Catholic Longhorns for Life, guest speaker Texas Gov. Rick Perry trashed Kay Bailey Hutchison (who was, at that time, opposing him for the Republican gubernatorial nomination), for not supporting with enough vigor the ultrasound bill that was to be passed the following year.
He lauded the ultrasound proposal as a way to make mothers reconsider after seeing the images of the fetus, which, according to Perry, would reduce abortion rates. He ironically failed to mention House Bill 2702, which he supported, and which received unanimous legislative support in 2007. This bill provides health insurance subsidies and tuition waivers for adoptees. These measures could encourage adoption (and, indirectly, putting up children for adoption as an alternative to abortion).

This lack of balanced rhetoric in the keynote address represented not a constructive critique of a social problem, but an accusatory implication that mothers bear the brunt of the responsibility for abortions and therefore deserve institutionalized humiliation.

It’s worth noting that the most stringent limitations on abortion and declarations about redeeming situations do little to actually reduce the number of abortions. Despite all of the social discouragement and legal obstacles in place here, Texas ranked 13th in the nation by number of abortions sought in 2007, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Insisting on the most extreme legal restrictions possible is ineffective and often hypocritical.

If lawmakers really want to do something to limit the number of abortions, they need to discourage them by supporting aid to mothers, improving the foster care system and setting up social programs that would make the prospect of raising a child easier. Passing judgment on women who may feel that they have run out of options and making extreme statements that clash with the beliefs of over 80 percent of the country won’t get anything done. Very few people want to get abortions, so to solve the problem, let’s make it so that they don’t feel they have to.

Knoll is a Latin American Studies senior from Dallas.