But anti-abortion leaders disagree. Faced with polls saying eight in 10 Americans think abortion should be legal when a pregnancy results from rape, these activists are pushing for more public discussion of the issue. It's part of a long-term campaign to bring the country closer to banning abortion in nearly all cases.
One part of the plan is teaching politicians how to answer difficult abortion questions; another is emphasizing the humanity of rape survivors and their unborn babies.
On a post-election webcast, Billy Valentine -- the policy director of the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports anti-abortion candidates -- lauded failed Senate candidates Todd Akin (who said, "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down") and Richard Mourdock (who said that "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen") as being "courageous."
"What Todd Akin and what Richard Mourdock said, what they meant was not wrong," Valentine said. "In fact, they were taking a very courageous stand. But it's how they said it. So one thing we're going to be working on is making sure that candidates the pro-life movement gets behind are well-versed in our messaging and know how to answer the tough abortion questions."
Students for Life of America (SFLA), an advocacy-training group founded in the 1970's, has also been vocal about the rape exception issue.
SFLA sells postcards that "explore rape and incest arguments for the unborn." The cards read: "Should a child die for his or her father's crimes?"
Last month, SFLA sponsored a panel discussion at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, featuring Rebekah Berg, who decided to parent her child conceived in rape, and Ryan Bomberger, an anti-abortion activist conceived in rape and placed for adoption.
"Abortion doesn't unrape you," said Bomberger, who co-founded the Radiance Foundation, which creates anti-abortion ad campaigns, and who often speaks at conferences, where he discusses how his birth mother faced a traumatic pregnancy but gave him life.
"I'm always called a rapist's child," Bomberger told me recently, following a press briefing in Washington, D.C. "Well, I'm also the child of my mother, and many women believe that that child has been their only healing grace, their only redemption. So I think any time we talk about this issue, we have to talk more about what happens beyond the act of rape."
This type of personal appeal was employed last year, with the "Rape Victim's Child Tour," an event sponsored by a national group pushing Mississippi's failed "personhood" amendment, which would have outlawed abortion by defining a fertilized egg as a person.
But some anti-abortion advocates, like Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas at Minneapolis, think most Americans are not ready to ban abortion without rape exceptions.
At a recent anti-Roe v. Wade lecture at Harvard University, Collett explained why most Americans believe abortion is acceptable in the case of non-consensual sex, noting that in 2006, South Dakota voters overturned an abortion ban that had no exception for rape or incest.
"[W]ere we to try to pass a ban, politically, as they did in South Dakota, a majority of Americans would require that there be an exception for victims of rape, and yet that would affect only 2 percent of the abortions in this country," Collett said.
"Not arguing for it," she added. "I'm trying to explain why so many of our fellow citizens, who even self-identify as pro-life, think the rape cases are different, think the responsibility of people who did not even engage in the activity they know could be procreative should be excused for some brief period of time. Although even among those who would support a rape exception, I question whether they would accept it after the fourth or fifth month. There's some sort of idea that you've waited long enough, you've made your decision."
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