Indiana Senate candidate, Richard Mourdock, created another national controversy over rape and abortion this past Tuesday when he asserted that "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape… it is something that God intended to happen." Almost immediately, candidates from both parties, including President Obama and Governor Romney, began piling on the public condemnation.
President Obama's spokeswoman called the remarks "outrageous and demeaning to women." Governor Romney's spokeswoman declared that "Governor Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock and Mr. Mourdock's statements do not reflect Governor Romney's views." The man Mourdock was debating, Joe Donnelly, offered the most over-the-top condemnation (though it didn't come until after the debate, when the media frenzy had already begun). He stated, "I was shocked by what was said… it was insulting and wrong to women, to survivors of rape and to their families… I don’t know any God who would ever intend something like that; it is an unspeakable crime.”
In Mourdock's press conference yesterday, he almost tearfully explained that he wasn't suggesting that God ever intends for a woman to be raped, but rather that when a women becomes pregnant through rape, it is because God intends for that child to be born. Despite Joe Donnelly's inference, any honest observer already knew this was the distinction Mourdock was making. His follow-up press conference may have cleared up some confusion, but his explanation will remain wholly unsatisfactory to much of the voting populace.
According to some of the voters interviewed by USA Today, Mourdock's comments indicate that he is a "nut job," that he is "disqualified" to hold office, and that he advocates an "unconscionable position." A top Obama advisor tweeted: “Mitt’s man Mourdock apes Akin in Indiana debate, reflecting a GOP that is way out of mainstream.” The response from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee states, “Richard Mourdock’s disturbing comment on rape is a window into Mourdock’s extreme view of the world.”
The more "official" responses are clearly attempts to politically capitalize on the errant assertion that Mourdock believes rape is the will of God. Clearly he doesn't. And if you look at his remarks in that light, they're not particularly extreme at all. It's almost certain that most Americans do believe that God exists and is active in the creation of human life. That makes it an inherently mainstream opinion. As Senator John Cornyn of Texas responded, "Richard (Mourdock) and I, along with millions of Americans — including even Joe Donnelly — believe that life is a gift from God. To try and construe his words as anything other than restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous."
On this point, it's possible that Senator Cornyn is oversimplifying things himself, though I would have responded in much the same way. Richard Mourdock's comments were misconstrued but not so much as you might think. The sovereignty of God over good and evil takes us into deep waters, and Mourdock's treatise on rape introduces a theological conundrum that would be better left outside the realm of public politics. After all, how does one assert that God willed for the pregnancy to take place, but not for the rape? How does one assert that God is in control when good things happen, but not when bad things happen? And if God is able to sovereignly create a new life, why doesn't he sovereignly prevent a rape?
On some level, there are reasonable answers to these questions. On a deeper level, there is much we may never understand. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! The point is this. A theological discussion of this sort is not fit for the political arena. It is unhelpful and can do immense positive harm. Matthew 7:6 comes to mind. In certain contexts, it is better to not throw sacred truths out for public derision and scorn. There is a time and place to discuss the deep mysteries of God. There is also a time to hold our tongue. By appealing to the sovereignty of God at an inopportune time, Mourdock played into the hands of his ideologic opponents and further established the misconception that opposition to abortion is built on religious fanaticism–which is why I believe abortion-vulnerable children would have been better served if Mourdock had handled the question put to him as follows:
Should abortion be allowed in cases of rape or incest?
The reason abortion is unjust is because it kills an innocent human being. That does not change when the child is conceived through rape.
So you would not support an exception for rape or incest?
No, I would not.
Ethically, there is no difference between abortions that result from rape and those that don't. Children who are conceived through rape are not less human than those who aren't. That being said, a purely pragmatic case can be made for allowing the rape and incest exception. Rape and incest account for less than 1% of abortions nationwide. If it's a question of allowing all abortions, or only allowing those that result from rape or incest, or are performed to save the life of the mother, clearly the latter position is more just.
There are plenty of reasons to oppose abortion that have nothing to do with biblical appeals to the sovereignty of God. Pastors can (and should!) raise the issue of God's sovereignty when preaching against abortion, but politicians should stick to the biology of prenatal development and the violence of abortion.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. You can also find him on Facebook and Google+. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.