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.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

“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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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. therealbartonfunk

    So in 2012 these people want to practice medicine and make law based upon Psalm 139 written 3000 years ago? That sounds INSANE! It is insane. The was some nonsense written by some person who is long dead. What other grains of wisdom are these people pulling out of the Bible? Don't eat Shrimp? Should we bring 100 foreskins on a date? If we want striped animals we can just make the animals look at a striped patter and they will give birth to striped animals? It's a bunch on obvious nonsense. Who in their right mind believes this stuff literally? No body in their right mind!

    August 22, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  2. Snow

    When do people understand the meaning for the word "CHOICE".. it means that woman can CHOOSE to KEEP it if she wants.. Nobody is forcing them to get an abortion under that law.. When you ban it, they have no say but to go through irrespective of what mental stress they are going through, being continuously reminded of the reason they could not pursue their life as THEY had planned for themselves due to someone else's sick desire.. I am of course talking about the cases of r.a.p.e.

    PS.. Btw, If the good old nuts in the churches had drilled their teachings deep enough into their heads, they would definitely follow their god's message and choose to keep it. so the problem is with their methods of brainwashing... don't blame others. 🙂

    August 22, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  3. Josh

    It's awesome how the republicans' solutions to unemployment is to dramatically increase the number of unemployed.

    August 22, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  4. I see more than you.

    Haven't we been through this? Prohibition never works. Puff Puff.

    August 22, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Huebert


      August 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  5. nemo0037

    Um dude - as religion editor, don't you sort of need to submit your opinion pieces to a separate editor, to catch blunders like you have in your opening paragraph? Just sayin'

    August 22, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  6. ted

    these anti-abortion people are ignorant. Let's think about the woman who is the victim of this hellacious crime. What about her and her feelings? Why are the anti-abortion people thinking about the victim of the crime? All they care about is forcing the victim to live with an unwanted and less than desirous pregancy to go to term. Then what? Will the anti-abortion people step up and adopt this unwanted baby from the person, still the victim of a crime, who they forced to go to term? These anti-abortion folks are one sided on this issue and deserve to be waterboarded and sent to Gitmo.

    August 22, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  7. Larry

    A group of people who wanted to control the lives of millions of others invented something called god, and then a book of fiction about him. They slowly found out that some items couldn't be explained, even though they were in this bible, so they created excuses for certain events, such as murder, saying this god gave man free will. In ogther words, an excuse for something bad happening started. Then came god works in mysterious ways, or it's part of god's plan, and voila – nothing, however silly, could be questioned in this bible.

    Now, people interpret the words in the bible – what book needs so much interpretation over thousands of years – and interpretations vary enormously.

    Then comes the worst part – people who believe this nonsense want to impose it on everyone else.

    August 22, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  8. nostrildamus

    Seriously, CNN's editing is a joke. Akin didn't say a woman's body would prevent CONTRACEPTION!!!!

    August 22, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  9. lex

    What do these anti-abortion protesters not get? It is my body; I will decide what I do with it.

    August 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Carlin123

      But Jesus say's you can't do that.

      August 22, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • John

      You can do with your body what you want if it doesn't interfere with another's rights. You have no right to take your body and use it to take a knife and stab your neighbor to death. So, the question isn't whether you can do with your body what you want, the question is whether the life inside you is a person or not. Scientifically, it is of course human. But, in this case, lets throw science out the window and just say, legislatively, that it is not a person. Use science when it benefits your beliefs, and ignore science when it is inconvenient.

      August 22, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  10. JIm M

    Sorry, but making abortion illegal does not stop abortions from happening. It just moves them out of sight. Education, contraception, and making them safe is the better way to go.

    August 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  11. us_1776

    Abortion is a decision between a woman, her doctor and her god.

    And that's it.


    August 22, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Carlin123

      But if you have an abortion then you don't believe in God.

      August 22, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  12. Bijouandbucky

    The anti-abortionists are full of hot air. I'll bet anybody that of all the crusading anti-abortionists out there, not 1% of them have adopted an unwanted child. If they get that number to over 50%, then maybe we can talk. And it can't be the "easy" babies, either. but the crack babies, or ones born with horrendous congenital defects or diseases that will require around-the-clock help throughout their lives, as well as vast amounts of money for health services. Truly, I don't think this conversation should happen until every single foster-care child in the nation has been permanently adopted. The concept of no-abortions is very nicey-nicey, but the logistics don't make sense. Do the TPers also know that banning abortion would also add hugely to the deficit? THINK, people!

    August 22, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  13. bakslider

    I'm with you on most of this Eli except that all the support services you mention are also on the cutting block of the GOP platform. They are against almost everything you mention including contraception. This platform plank is going to be a very hard sell for the GOP in the 21st century.

    August 22, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  14. Jack

    Hello folks. Everyone is cordially invited to visit – thestarofkaduri.com

    August 22, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  15. georgex

    The same people who now advocate against legal abortions are the same types who a few decades ago tried to even prohibit the sale of condoms. And now don't want birth control that modern science has made available. Coming from an ideological basis and investing much of their prestige on the life before birth idea they don't wish to change. They keep drumming on and on in an effort to interfere with the personal lives on people. For many decades people have sought abortions even where illegal and where they have suffered injury and deaths as a result. In a way those who made it illegal are guilty of the injuries and deaths that resulted from their piously held beliefs.

    August 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  16. Really?

    Imagine one day we find the cure to death, will republicans object to anyone taking it since it plays God or will they keep it because it conserves life, like abortion conserves life (republican definition of)?

    August 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • bakslider

      They will cure it the day after I go. If it ain't Biblical, it ain't good.

      August 22, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  17. William Demuth

    Check out this bit of American Justice for you!

    In more than 30 states, the mother who choses to bear a child concieved thru molestation must share custody of the child with the molester.

    Our society is mad! Raging lunatics abound!

    August 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  18. JohnC

    "“it was (the Lord) who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”"

    This quote suggests a process of becoming but makes no mention of when in that process one is considered fully human. At first there are a few cells who's main difference from other cells we lose regularly is simply that it has somewhat different genes from the mother. We can talk about the _potential_ of those cells but then that would lead to the idea that one should not waste a single egg in the mother if it can be helped. I don't see an exact moment that is THE moment but rather a gradual transition from abortion being acceptable to being very unacceptable. I personally don't much care for the idea of abortion a couple of months after conception.

    August 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • JIm M

      Stats show that 98% of abortions happen in the first tri-mester.

      August 22, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  19. CACkle

    "Both Todd Akin’s claim that women’s bodies can prevent contraception"

    Don't you mean conception? Great way to begin the article – must have gone to the same school as Akin!

    August 22, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  20. Eli Cabelly

    I'm pro-life, anti-abortion, and pro-choice. I'm for increasing the quality of life for everyone, including myself. I'm smart enough to realize that some women who are pregnant will choose to get an abortion no matter what. There's nothing I can do to stop that. I don't believe that she, who is living, has to die for that choice. That's what you're demanding when you make abortions illegal. You're not ending abortion, you're ending legal abortion and starting illegal abortion.

    I want to reduce the amount of abortions. That most effective means are education and contraception. Give young people the tools they need to understand the consequences of their actions. If they do choose to get pregnant then we need to take care of the fetus with regular checkups, pre-natal care, and proper nutrition for the young mother-to-be. Once the baby is born we need to make sure that the baby has the care and nutrition he (or she) needs to be healthy. That means food and other services if the mother wants to go back to work, or money if she wants to take time off to care for her newborn.

    This is what people who are "Pro-life" want, and what our priorities are. The current group of people who call themselves pro-life are actually pro-death.

    August 22, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • HenkV

      "We need to make sure": when will YOU be writing the first check?
      What is really crazy about your post is the fact that you are completely in sync with the democrats, who want the GOVERNMENT to take care of every single person in this country.
      Please, religious freaks, stop working your buns off to get in your pretend heaven. I know you don't give a damn about others, only about getting into your afterlife and you think that running and ruining other people's lives is your ticket.

      August 22, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • JIm M


      Please define "What is really crazy about your post is the fact that you are completely in sync with the democrats, who want the GOVERNMENT to take care of every single person in this country".

      Is that access to healthcare, social security, medicare?

      August 22, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • myweightinwords


      Where in the above post was anything said about the government supporting everyone?

      The first step is solid sex education in our schools, for all kids, at age appropriate levels, from as early as eleven or twelve years old.

      The second is the availability of contraception for all, at little to no cost as well as solid education in the proper use of said contraception. This is something President Obama has made possible, but is still being criticized and fought over.

      The third is legal and safe abortion being available for when education and contraception are not enough (yes, some women taking birth control still get pregnant).

      After that comes affordable and available health care for those women who, once pregnant, decide to carry their child to term. Pregnancy is a terribly expensive situation in this country. The solution isn't necessarily government "taking over" health care as much as it is controlling the cost of it, and to fund programs like Planned Parenthood that make it affordable for low income women.

      August 22, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22
About this blog

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.