When it comes to the hot-button issue of abortion, there are some questions that make even the staunchest pro-lifer uncomfortable: What do you say to the woman who finds herself pregnant due to rape? What do you do with the adolescent girl who is impregnated by her father, brother, or uncle? What if it was your wife, or your daughter that was the victim? Would you expect her to bear a child conceived in violence and fear?
Presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently made waves when he stated that his respect for the sanctity of human life precludes an exception for instances of rape or incest on the question of abortion. Given the highly traumatic nature of these crimes, it is hardly surprising that many Americans, pro-lifers included, disagree with Mr. Santorum, viewing such an exception as a necessary and compassionate concession in the abortion debate. It is easy to understand why the victims of such horrible crimes would want to eliminate any vestige of the offense, after all. Why punish them further by forcing them to embrace a lifelong reminder of the ordeal they experienced? For those of us that believe in the humanity of the unborn, however, the fundamental question remains: Does an act of rape, perpetrated against one person, warrant the taking of another person's innocent life?
There can be no question that rape is a heinous, abhorrent, despicable act. Short of murder, it is likely the most offensive and demeaning act that can be perpetrated against a woman, and is a crime that used to be punishable by death in the United States. Nevertheless, in 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kennedy v. Louisiana that the imposition of the death penalty for the rape of a child violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. According to the majority opinion, although Patrick Kennedy's rape of his eight-year-old stepdaughter was so brutal that she required emergency surgery, the concept of proportionality and "evolving standards of decency" rendered the death penalty unwarranted.