Rape, Pregnancy, and a Woman's Freedom

Judie Brown
By Meg McDonnell
August 29, 2012
Reproduced with Permission

United States politician Todd Akin has created quite the discussion with his rather fumbled comments on "legitimate rape." Although the Missouri Representative has apologized and will proceed with his campaign for the Senate, against the wishes of many of his colleagues, the larger discussion on how to care for a woman who is impregnated by rape continues.

All rape is violating and repulsive. What makes rape such an outrage is that it takes what is supposed to be an intimate, natural, and loving act, and uses it for power, aggression, and self-gratification on the sole part of the rapist. The victim is left feeling used, ashamed, and often angry.

Then, if a woman finds herself pregnant after rape, she understandably will feel more misery and shame. As one rape victim wrote, "My pregnancy legitimatized my rape. It had happened; this was real."

But the misery doesn't have to stay, says this rape victim, Shauna Prewitt. In her poignant open letter to Representative Akin, Prewitt writes:

Although I would not be able to articulate it for months, I was experiencing a most curious emotion toward the life growing inside of me, an emotion that both enlivened me and caused me to experience an intolerable shame. You see, to my surprise, I did not altogether hate the life growing inside of me. Instead, I felt a sort of kinship, a partnership - perhaps the kind that only develops between those who have suffered together - but, nevertheless, I felt a bond.

Her emotions confused her, she said, since she felt like a "bad rape victim" who saw "light" in her pregnancy, instead of hatred. Why was this? Prewitt mused.

"Perhaps the answer is as simple as this: Just as being raped did not override my body's natural ability to get pregnant, rape did not altogether override my body's natural response to being pregnant."

Though it was no easy decision, Prewitt gave birth to and is raising her daughter, an experience of "unimaginable joy," she says.

And there's the rub. Rape is violating because it takes joy out of what should be a loving act. But rape doesn't have to remove the joy out of a second loving act - the giving of life to another.

But not all who read Prewitt's story understood that point. Journalist Hanna Rosin, whose views of women's freedom I tend to disagree with, commented on Prewitt's story for Slate magazine with a concern:

One worry I had upon reading Prewitt's letter is that Akin and other conservatives will seize it as fodder for the pro-life position. See, what matters is the precious life that resulted from this! But again, that is not at all Prewitt's point. What she's saying is, things are complicated. There is no predictable magic. One can feel rage and shame and joy about the same fact. That's what it means to really understand "life."

You are right, Ms. Rosin. Life can be complicated, especially for a woman who finds herself pregnant from a rape. But the pro-life position does not fail to acknowledge and properly address those complications that unplanned pregnancies can bring.

In fact, from the pro-life position, equally as important as the precious life of the child in the womb is the precious life of the woman who was violated. She too deserves a redeeming experience of joy.

And that, Ms. Rosin, is the point in this discussion. As backwards and complicated as it might seem, a rape victim's pregnancy and her decision to give life to her child can bring joy after the awful attempt of her rapist to take joy from her.

Yes, rape is always repulsive, and a pregnancy resulting from rape may bring further fury to already intensely negative emotions. But when we understand the mystery and the joy that is wrapped up in woman's ability to bring new life into the world, those negative emotions can subside - perhaps never disappear - but certainly subside.

Abortion, then, is hardly the answer to a pregnancy resulting from rape. Why should a woman have taken from her what is meant to be yet another joy-filled experience - that of bringing new life into the world?