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August 22nd, 2012
12:25 PM ET

Anti-abortion movement stands by 'no exceptions' orthodoxy amid controversy

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – Both Todd Akin’s claim that women’s bodies can prevent conception in cases of “legitimate rape” and the GOP’s newly-adopted platform language calling for a constitutional ban on abortion have provoked controversy for largely the same reason: They showcase the belief that all abortions should be illegal, without exception.

But even as Democrats and abortion rights groups use the controversies to reinforce allegations of a Republican-led “war on women,” don’t expect the anti-abortion movement to back away from calls for all abortions to be illegal - even for women impregnated by rape or incest.

“Philosophically, the consensus is very clearly that life is life and that it should be not be taken and that abortion is not a compassionate response to something terrible, even like rape,” said Marvin Olasky, the editor in chief of World magazine, an influential evangelical publication.

“It’s adding one terrible thing onto another terrible thing.”

At the same time, the anti-abortion movement has grown to accept that many Republican politicians are unlikely to echo their “no exceptions” line on abortion. That includes Mitt Romney, whose campaign recently said abortion should be allowed in cases of rape.

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“I don’t think that the Republican Party has ever nominated someone for president who didn’t advocate for an exception for rape and incest and the life of the mother,” said Ralph Reed, who leads the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “So the party has always had a diversity of views on that point.”

Still, Reed said that diversity is mostly born of political reality, as opposed to reflecting serious debate among anti-abortion activists over whether abortion should be legal in certain circumstances. The fact is that Republican politicians who don’t advocate exceptions for abortion bans are less likely to win election.

To the extent that rape and incest exceptions have been advocated, said Reed, "it’s been mostly for political viability and expediency."

In the decades after the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision ensured legal protection for abortion procedures nationwide, the anti-abortion movement was initially uncompromising in advocating across-the-board abortion bans at the state and national level.

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But as anti-abortion groups like Operation Rescue failed to meaningfully influence the public policy debate around abortion, the movement changed strategies in the 1990s, looking to chip away at abortion rights rather than expect an across-the-board ban, which couldn’t happen with Roe on the books, anyway.

“Operation Rescue left the impression that they wanted to impose the will of a minority of people on the majority, and a lot of pro-life leaders said that was not working,” said Olasky, who has chronicled the anti-abortion movement and was an informal adviser to President George W. Bush.

“Those leaders said you have to bring others along – that’s American democracy,” Olasky said. “There was a pivot to an incremental approach.”

That approach wound up yielding new anti-abortion legislation, including the Infant Born Alive Protection Act of 2002 and Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.

But tensions between pragmatism and idealism among abortion rights opponents continues. It’s reflected in the rift between the Romney campaign and the Republican Party platform around abortion. Platform language adopted Tuesday calls for a constitutional abortion ban without making explicit exceptions for rape or incest.

But Reed, who formerly led the Christian Coalition, charges that the controversy around calls for abortion bans without exceptions for rape or incest –- he says anti-abortion activists generally support abortions to save a mother’s life - has been blown out of proportion by Democrats and liberals who want to paint the GOP as extremist.

The reality, Reed contends, is that abortions that happen in response to rape and incest are a “statistically insignificant portion of abortions as a whole, even as they represent a significant national tragedy.”

The focus on GOP calls for no-exception abortion bans, Reed said, is “an attempt by the left to raise a bogeyman and by the media to raise 'gotcha questions' with candidates who are pro-life.”

Still, he acknowledged that many women who are generally opposed to abortion, want there to be some legal exceptions.

A Gallup poll from earlier this year found that 20% of Americans want abortion to be illegal in all circumstances, while 25% of Americans want abortion to be legal in all circumstances.

Half the country, meanwhile, wants to see abortion legal, but only in certain circumstances, the poll found.

Amid the furor over Akin’s comments - for which he apologized this week, even as many Republican leaders have called for him to end his campaign - many anti-abortion activists have stuck by their stance against abortion rights in the case of rape.

“The most eloquent defenders of the value of every human life are people like my friends Ryan Bomberger and Rebecca Kiessling, both of whom were conceived in rape,” Charmaine Yoest, president of the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, wrote in a post for National Review Online this week.

“Today, Ryan and Rebecca are vibrant reminders of the truth that Life has value, no matter its beginnings,” she wrote.

Many anti-abortion activists root their strict opposition to abortion rights in the theology of the Catholic Church, which says it has always condemned abortion.

The church does acknowledge that influential Catholic thinkers over the centuries have had different views on when exactly life begins, with some putting that milestone well after conception.

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the church adopted its position on life beginning at conception in the 19th century.

Many anti-abortion Catholics and evangelicals cite Psalm 139 in the Bible, which says “it was (the Lord) who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

Though it doesn't mention abortion, antiabortion activists also point to the story of Moses’ birth from the second chapter of the book of Exodus, in which the heroic figure is spared from infanticide.

The text says the Hebrews, who were enslaved to Egyptians, were growing in number. Pharaoh ordered all Hebrew boys born to be killed and thrown into the Nile. Moses’ mother defies the order and when she can longer hide baby Moses, she puts him in a reed basket and floats him down the Nile.

Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the baby in the basket while she is bathing, rescues him, and winds up raising him.

–CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Abortion • Politics

soundoff (1,828 Responses)
  1. Bridget

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    October 15, 2012 at 4:00 am |
  2. Enid

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    September 25, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  3. SolderOfConscience

    a bort ion = murder

    August 28, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Russell's Teapot

      So is not allowing one in the event the pregnancy puts the mothers life at risk

      September 5, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • WASP

      @soc: so abortion is murder? how do you figure?
      -can the fetus survive outside the mother's body pre-term? NO
      -does the fetus have a functioning mind to the point it recognizes itself as being human? NO
      -is it right to risk the life of a fully developed functioning human, just to save a fetus that will die without her body? NO
      -does it violate the hypocratic oath doctors and nurses have to take if they allow a mother to suffer to attempt to save the unborn child? YES, it states do no harm; along with save the life in front of you first.
      -is it EVIL to force a child born to a crack addict to suffer withdrawl and other complications throughout their lives? YES
      -is it EVIL to use 2000 year old parchment to justify refusing to give people a choice in life? YES IT IS VERY EVIL.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  4. SoldierOfConscience

    3 ways society has gone wrong

    1. rampant ab0rt1on/b1rth c0ntrol/etc.
    2. tolerance and encouragement of d3viancy like g@y
    3. no respect for marriage : rampant d1v0rce. it should be only for abuse and adultery

    August 27, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  5. Desertlady

    How does a forced pregnancy differ from slavery? I don't see any difference. Basically, if you are against abortion, don't have one.

    August 26, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      moot point after November. Romney / Ryan 2012

      August 26, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • SoldierOfConscience

      How does being forced to take care of the 3 month old baby rather than just leaving him/her/it by curbside differ from slavery?

      How does being forced to work 8 hours a day to support yourself differ from slavery?

      How does being forced to pay 'alimony' and 'child support' to ex differ from slavery?

      August 27, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • SoldierOfConscience

      According to deserylady logic,

      If you are opposed to child abandonment dont do it but dont get in the way of others doing it

      If you are opposed to free handouts to everyone just coz they breathe, dont take your handout but dont get in the way of others getting it

      If you are opposed to deadbeat dad/moms, dont become one yourself. But no enforcement on those who do

      August 27, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • SoldierOfConscience

      Ha! so desertlady agrees with me that her logic was wrong.

      August 30, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Desertlady

      Soldier, you can leave your job right now, this minute. And I would say, no one is going to put you in jail for leaving. Are there consequences? Sure. But you can leave.

      I have a child, a wanted child, and I and my husband do our best to take care of her. We made the decision when WE were ready – financially, mentally, emotionally.

      And yes, parents of unwanted children do abandon their children. Very sad situation – have you rescued any?

      To the best of my knowledge, I cannot just pull out my uterus and put it into another person's body and force them to continue the pregnancy.

      September 5, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • gf

      Your responses to SofC suggest that we should just be allowed to do whatever we want, each of us, otherwise it's slavery. I mean I feel like a slave every time I get pulled over for going 81 in a 70mph area. I should be able to drive how fast I want! I'm a slave! I can get a ticket for not wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle in my city. I want to ride a bike without a helmet but 'they' won't let me ... I'm basically just a slave. Who are 'they' anyway who're making these rules.

      You see, we have rules and laws as part of society ... try living without them and see how that works. Having rules and laws, even those that limit our personal freedom for the sake of the whole or others, is not equated to slavery. Most rules are there to prevent selfish/greedy people from taking advantage of others, or prevent people from harming others. In this case, SofC obviously believes the zygote/fetus/embryo (whatever you call it) to be a human life worthy of protecting. You believe it to be a human clump of cells (with a heartbeat & brain activity) that should be easily disgarded. You both believe life should be protected (if you don't, you have other problems) ... the difference is in the definition of "what is life" in this situation.

      September 6, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  6. Reality

    ONCE AGAIN- Way beyond the pro-choice/abortion and respect for human life in all its forms issues, we have the following:

    ONLY FOR NEW MEMBERS OF THIS BLOG: (Please copy and/or forward it to your teenagers or young adult children)----->>>>>>>>>>>

    The reality of se-x, contraception and STD/HIV control: –

    from a guy who enjoys intelligent se-x-

    Note: Some words hyphenated to defeat an obvious word filter. ...

    The Brutal Effects of Stupidity:

    : The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill (8.7% actual failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% actual failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Unfortunately they do not give the statistics for doubling up i.e. using a combination of the Pill and a condom.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    "Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here's a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active "post-teeners": Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'" (It should be called the Bill Clinton Syndrome !!)

    Obviously, political leaders in both parties, Planned Parenthood, parents, the "stupid part of the USA" and the educational system have failed miserably on many fronts.

    The most effective forms of contraception, ranked by "Perfect use":

    - (Abstinence, 0% failure rate)
    – (Masturbation, mono or mutual, 0% failure rate)

    Followed by:

    One-month injectable and Implant (both at 0.05 percent)
    Vasectomy and IUD (Mirena) (both at 0.1 percent)
    The Pill, Three-month injectable, and the Patch (all at 0.3 percent)
    Tubal sterilization (at 0.5 percent)
    IUD (Copper-T) (0.6 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Post-ovulation) (1.0 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Symptothermal) and Male condom (both at 2.0 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Ovulation method) (3.0 percent)

    Every other method ranks below these, including Withdrawal (4.0), Female condom (5.0), Diaphragm (6.0), Periodic abstinence (calendar) (9.0), the Sponge (9.0-20.0, depending on whether the woman using it has had a child in the past), Cervical cap (9.0-26.0, with the same caveat as the Sponge),

    August 26, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  7. reality check

    What does the GOP plan to do with all these unwanted fetuses, once they become the unwanted children of poor, unwed mothers? The GOP's still against welfare, right? I guess once they're born, they're on their own.

    August 26, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • Mihaela

      30 How many women/couples use abortion as their priarmy form of birth control? I would assume that it's fairly low. Unless we're talking about the morning after pill, which I would assume is more common. I will look for resources, but it seems unlikely to me. It is clear that abortion is more common after birth control fails. Perhaps the birth control was not used properly, but it seems unlikely that a woman or couple would have multiple abortions yearly. Not only would it be expensive, there might also be health consequences. For the record, some countries (like the former Soviet Union) did perform abortions very frequently because there weren't other effective forms of birth control.Some conservatives that I speak with counter my argument about birth control by suggesting that everyone needs to be responsible for the cost, education and hassle of this themselves. And I can respect that argument, but it doesn't seem to me that it's working very well. Also, some states have cut all funding for organizations like Planned Parenthood, which can be one of the only options for women to get low cost birth control and HIV testing.What about about many abortions occurring for women who already have children? Why is that? Would abortions also be reduced if (like in Europe), women were paid to have children and fully financially supported during pregnancy and the first five years of each child's life? Can you imagine the cost of that? Maybe this whole issue tells us more about our society than we are really comfortable with. We have particular narratives in our culture and I agree with the article we become uncomfortable when those narratives are questioned. (Every woman is capable of being a birth mother or mother, every couple is capable of understanding and using birth control, motherhood is innate, fathers will always step up to the plate, etc.)

      September 7, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • shay

      That's a very good question..let me know if we ever get an answer to that one. This whole debate truly terrifies me.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.