Skip to main content


Doing better on 'hard cases'

The issue of abortion in cases of rape doesn’t have to be a PR nightmare for pro-lifers

Doing better on 'hard cases'

Richard Mourdock (left) and Todd Akin (Mourdock: Michael Conroy/AP; Akin: Jeff Roberson/AP)

Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress/AP

Abraham Lincoln

In WORLD we try to avoid “talking heads” stories in which experts voice their opinions about issues—but here comes an exception, because the only abortion news for many mainstream reporters in last year’s election came out of two talking heads.

With more than 1 million children aborted last year, the big news was that two GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate were mistaken and misspoken. Missouri’s Todd Akin lost after claiming that women subjected to “legitimate rape” rarely became pregnant, and Indiana’s Richard Mourdock lost after mistaking a political debate for a theological discussion and telling the moderator that conception through rape “is something that God intended to happen.”

We asked four pro-life leaders in separate interviews how Akin and Mourdock should have answered questions regarding abortion after rape. Lila Rose, president of Live Action, voiced a position all shared: “The child shouldn’t be held accountable for the crimes of the father. The child should be protected and loved just like the woman should be protected and loved.” Rose added that journalistic questioning also provides an opportunity “to remind people that abortion is an act of violence that kills a child, that tears a tiny child that’s just developing apart in his or her mother’s womb.”

Americans United for Life president Charmaine Yoest suggested that an interviewee “start with acknowledging the pain that women in crisis pregnancy situations are facing. That is the absolute starting point for any conversation about abortion, really whether you’re talking about the hard cases or just any kind of discussion about abortion … the general public [needs to] understand that abortion is not a choice that women want for themselves and for the babies.”

When it comes to the rape question specifically, she recommends referring reporters to people born after rape such as Ryan Bomberger and Rebecca Kiessling: “People who have the moral authority to speak on a situation are the people who have some sort of personal connection to it.” Care Net president Melinda Delahoyde agreed: “When reporters come face to face with a person who was conceived in rape, then it becomes a totally different issue. … I know some who have said, ‘Why would you deny me the right to life? Do you seriously think that you can tell me that because I was conceived in rape, I don’t deserve to live, or that my life isn’t worthy to be lived?’”

Amherst College political science professor Hadley Arkes suggested asking reporters whether they favor capital punishment for the rapist—and when they say no, asking why they want “lethal surgery for the innocent issue of the rape: Do you think that the child bears any responsibility for the rape?” Arkes noted that reporters are likely to talk about the trauma of a mother bearing a rapist’s child—but “if you think the mother having the child would have trauma, do you think she would have trauma in confronting the rapist, again, in a trial? Would you just order up the killing of the rapist, rather than have her go through that?” 

Yoest noted that a hard-pressed abortion movement tries to “turn the American people’s attention towards the hard cases,” so she reminds herself to focus on “the vast majority of abortion cases” and “not to address every question” she is asked. Delahoyde said the raped woman is inevitably the center of attention “for the help that she needs and the resources she needs and the violation that has happened to her soul and her spirit and her body. But we have forgotten that there is another innocent victim here who had no choice in the matter, and who truly in many ways is the least protected of people in society and children in society—and it’s that child conceived and born in rape.”

Arkes proposed that when a typical secular reporter asks a Christian candidate a question designed “to embarrass him in the eyes of the urbane out there who are not Christians and not particularly religious,” he might respond, “‘I don’t know whether it’s part of God’s plan for reporters to be asking questions that they don’t understand, to elicit theological commentaries that they don’t understand.’” Arkes, though, observed that Todd Akin had run for years “in a congressional district where he strikes the right chord ... but as soon as he has to move out to another stage, with people who are more critical and don’t respond to the same cues, he suddenly finds he has to give an argument. And he starts fumbling. Because he’s just not used to having to explain himself.” Last year’s losses were a warning to pro-life candidates: Think and train, because reporters know “they can produce some unforced errors by inducing them to talk.” 

As Rose concluded, “We have a wonderful message on our side. A message that affirms life. So there is no excuse for our politicians—there’s no excuse for any of us—to not be able to answer as persuasively and as clearly as possible.”

Debate like Lincoln

Arkes recommends that pro-lifers pursue “a strategy Abraham Lincoln used when he asked slave owners, why are you justified in making a slave of the black men? Is it because he is less intelligent than you? Ah, beware! The next white man who comes along, more intelligent than you, might enslave you. Is it because he is darker? Ah, beware again. The next white man who comes along with a complexion even lighter than yours may enslave you.

“We’re simply making the same kind of principled argument, so we say, why is that offspring in the womb anything less than human? It doesn’t speak yet? Neither do deaf/mutes. It doesn’t yet have arms and legs? Well, other people lose arms and legs in the course of their lives without losing anything necessary to their standing as human beings.” —M.O. & S.O.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

Marvin Olasky

Susan Olasky

Susan is WORLD’s story coach and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Austin, Texas. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.


  • Sawgunner's picture
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:16 pm

    Christians look at the basic biology of a neonate and become proLife. I more or less did it  "bass ackward" and came to Christ after examining the horror of abortion. In that regard I think I am a lot like Norma McCorvey who made a similar pilgrimmage after examining the facts.Groups like the Susan B Anthony List are to be commended. SBA now offers some type of candidate "boot camp" training to prevent a repeat of Aiken and Mourdock. It still amazes me that these otherwise stellar candidates were beat on the strength of proAbort distortion. Never underestimate the power of the big lie.What is to be done then?For starters, since rape/incest accounts for all of maybe 2% of abortions, why not turn the tables and focus the debate on the remaining 98%. Fire back a question for ea question put to you if you are a proLife candidate. What can we do to fulfill Clinton's promise of making abortion safe, legal and rare? How rare should we have it be? I always stress the idea that like suicide, abortion is a permanent solution to a very temporary problem. For young women who are wanting to carry the child to term what can the govt or other private groups do to smoothe  out the pathway to an adoption?Presumably a male American born child would be very welcomed by wealthy Red Chinese families.

  • Rob's picture
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:16 pm

    We need to more heed Christ's admonition to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves". When folks ask about these difficult cases they are not using fallacious reasoning: using an atypical example and then seeking to generalize to all cases - ie the fallacy of sweeping generalization.  We need to be able to call them out for their faulty reasoning - of course in a winsome manner.

  • Karen for Life
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:16 pm

    Too many Georgia candidates are vaguely pro-life.  They must take the time to equip themselves to articulate life issues astutely, but many are not humble or teachable enough to get schooled. I hope Aiken and Mourdock will serve as examples of why they need much more than "a pro-life postion."

    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 06:16 pm

    These are very good articles providing practical ways to answer reporter's questions.  I was 33 when Roe vs. Wade  was made law.  I was born, raised and lived in Kenton County, Kentucky across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.  To my knowledge, no legal abortions have ever been performed there.  I am a Protestant thanking God for the faithfulness of a strong Catholic diocese there. Thank God that evangelical churches finally got on board.  This has been the holocaust of my generation.  We are paying the price now.  God is just.