Which Babies Should Get the Death Sentence?
Americans witnessed a remarkable drama this week when some of our most exalted politicians frantically scrambled to reassure voters that they, too, believed that the United States ought to permit the deliberate killing of at least some innocent human beings.
They apparently did so to persuade the public they are caring, compassionate and — above all — reasonable people.
The drama started when Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee in the U.S. Senate race in Missouri, expressed his view that no innocent human being ought to be deliberately killed.
However, that was not the only thing Akin expressed.
"What about in the case of rape. Should it (abortion) be legal or not?" Charles Jaco of KTVI in St. Louis asked Akin in an interview broadcast over the weekend.
"Well, you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well, how do you slice this particularly tough ethical question," said Akin. "It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
Akin's answer had two distinct parts. In the first, he made a claim about the physiological likelihood of a rape victim conceiving a child as the result of the criminal act committed against her. In the second, he made a policy statement about whether aborting such a child ought to be permitted.
The first part of Akin's answer was worse than gratuitous. It made a claim he could not back up and did so in language that itself raised questions.
But what about the second part of Akin's statement — that rapists ought to be punished but not children conceived through rape?
Is this a logical, morally defensible, even laudable and courageous position?
A good place to find the basic premises for conducting that analysis is on the website of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. It includes a statement explaining Romney's position on abortion.
"Mitt Romney is pro-life," says the first sentence of this statement. "Mitt believes that life begins at conception and wishes that the laws of our nation reflected that view," it further says. "Because the good heart of America knows no boundaries, a commitment to protecting life should not stop at the water's edge. Taking innocent life is always wrong and always tragic, wherever it happens," it also says.
"Americans have a moral duty to uphold the sanctity of life and protect the weakest, most vulnerable and most innocent among us," it concludes. "As president, Mitt will ensure that American laws reflect America's values of preserving life at home and abroad."
Now, I have not quoted here every word from Romney's campaign statement on abortion. But the term "rape" does not appear in it anywhere.
So, here is the syllogism a logical person might begin to construct from what Romney's campaign say about Romney's position on abortion: 1) "Life begins at conception," 2) "taking innocent life is always wrong and always tragic, wherever it happens," 3) "Americans have a moral duty to uphold the sanctity of life and protect the weakest, most vulnerable and most innocent among us," and 4) "Mitt will ensure that American laws reflect America's values of preserving life at home and abroad."
Given Romney's premises, what would be the logical position for Romney to take on whether American law should permit the taking of an innocent human life conceived through a rape?
"Gov. Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin's statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape," Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg told multiple news organizations on Monday.
This has been Romney's position ever since he declared himself pro-life. "I am pro-life," Romney wrote in a July 26, 2005, op-ed in the Boston Globe. "I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape and to save the life of the mother."
So, if abortion is not the "wrong choice" in cases of rape, what kind of choice is it?
Who exactly benefits when the government permits the deliberate killing of an innocent child conceived through rape?
"And in the quiet of conscience, people of both political parties know that more than a million abortions a year cannot be squared with the good heart of America," says the abortion statement on Romney's website.
Do those same consciences think permitting the deliberate killing of some innocent children can be squared with the good heart of America — as long as it is only certain categories of children, such as those conceived through rape?
Rep. Todd Akin's substantive position that we should protect the right to life even of those conceived through rape — who are themselves a second victim of that evil act — is not only in keeping with the good heart of America, it is plain and simply right.