A Response to Brian Atwood & Peter Fenn, “The president should clarify ‘Helms’ law to allow abortions for wars’ rape victims”
Dr. Mark S. Latkovic
February 14, 2014
Abortion in cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother – that’s what “comprehensive health services” “humanitarian assistance,” “fundamental human rights,” and “support” (should) mean in the context of U.S. foreign aid and a proper interpretation of the 1973 “Helm’s amendment” (named after the late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-NC), according to Atwood and Fenn. Just as U.S. taxpayer money can be used in these situations in our own country, so too should it be allowed when they occur in foreign lands. What’s needed, the authors argue, is an executive order to clarify (and correct misinterpretations of) the amendment and thus allow the same exceptions permitted in the U.S. to apply overseas. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-president-should-permit-aid-to-allow-abortions-for-wars-rape-victims/2014/02/13/68cb0298-9359-11e3-84e1-27626c5ef5fb_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions).
Leaving aside the life-of-the-mother case (which has many moral and legal nuances and is not an act, as is rape or incest, but a health condition), the authors do not give a moral rationale or argument for why the unborn child should pay with his or her life on account of a brutal crime perpetrated against the woman/mother. The woman is already a victim by the fact of being raped or through incest, and by killing the nascent child, abortion will now make it two victims.
Let me add, however, that when it can be shown that rape is being used as a weapon of war – and the authors mention Syria among several other countries – then one can make a strong case, I would argue, that any of the women in danger be allowed to protect themselves from sexual violence by taking precautionary measures in order to make pregnancy from rape unlikely. It’s important to note that this preemptive action would not be characterized as “contraception,” but rather “self-defense,” i.e., safeguarding one’s body from the sperm (a part of his body) of the rapist. The latter description – “self-defense” – would be the “moral object” of the act, in the technical language of moral theology, since for an act to be contraceptive there has to be the intention not only to impede new human life from coming-to-be, but also the free choice to engage in sexual intercourse, which rape obviously doesn’t involve.
Aborting the children of rape victims is a violent act that only punishes the innocent child for a terrible crime that someone else did – the rapist. He should pay, not the unborn child. Let’s offer compassionate care to all women who are victims of rape – be they on our soil or in distant war-torn lands. That kind of care doesn’t involve taking the lives of the babies developing in their wombs, but rather taking care of both patient-victims.