Monday, November 16, 2009

A lesser injury is still an injury.

It's not obvious to me that all of the advice in this column is off-base.

Denying someone's rape is egregiously wrong, especially when it's obvious that they were assaulted: really, drunk physically forceful boss on a business trip who won't be pushed away? Rapist. But is it so straightforward that her husband, who left her after she decided not to abort the child that resulted from the rape, is a "total dickwad"? Maybe leaving is not the ideal reaction, but---without denying the very real injury the letter writer suffered---is it an incomprehensible moral wrong?

Even many pro-life people are understanding when a rape victim wants an abortion. Any child born as a result of such an assault could be a constant reminder of the crime---imposing an obligation to raise the offspring of someone who has committed an unforgivable offense. Some (I for one) cannot even imagine doing such a thing.

The letter writer was put in a horrible position through no fault of her own, but she made the decision that she was strong enough to go through with a pregnancy that she didn't want, by a man who violated her. But those of us who are pro-choice should acknowledge that our choices affect others. If we opt to follow our lives down certain paths, some of those we walk with may not be strong enough to follow.

It is not relevant that there are "hundreds of thousands of men who throw their entire souls into parenting adopted children and step-children, and ... dedicate their free time or careers to helping kids." Those men are making choices to form new, blended families or to devote their time to children in need. But here there was no decision on the husband's part to even potentially create a new life. This pregnancy was imposed on him---on their marriage---and just as many women could not in similar circumstances, he could not stomach the idea of raising a rapist's child.* It is not about being "charmed" by a child. It is about whether you could be a good parent to a child that is a constant and visceral reminder of your beloved being forcibly violated.

It is baffling to me how the same people who would (rightfully) snap if a female rape victim was told not to abort her pregnancy because she'd love the baby as soon as it was born, or that tons of women are stepmothers or social workers and thus raising other people's kids is no big deal, are incensed at the idea that a man might not be able to embrace this situation.

Is the idea that they are married and so any kid she opts to have is his responsibility without exception? Because that's not the law, from what I can tell, and there's no indication from the letter that the writer relied on a marital presumption of paternity (which both spouses know would be a lie).

Is the point that he made a vow and thus he's in it for better or worse? Whether or not you can parent another man's child, especially the child of someone who raped your wife, strikes me as a pretty irreconcilable difference.

A pregnant woman has the right to choose to abort or carry to term, and her husband can discuss it with her but not choose for her. But husbands are not obliged to follow their wives, nor wives their husbands. If one spouse chooses a life that the other finds unbearable, they are permitted to part. And if their reasons are understandable, I don't know why we should judge them harshly for doing so.

* In one of China Mieville's books, there's an outcast character we are told for nearly the entire book was brutally punished and cast out of his tribe for "choice theft." In the last few pages Mieville reveals that this was rape. Without failing to recognize that the letter writer was more greatly wronged, we can acknowledge that this theft of her choice also effectively stole the choice of others.
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