The Utah state legislature is looking to pass a law that outlaws abortion. (Thanks to Matt Evans at T&S for the pointer.) In line with the Church’s position on abortion, it would allow for three exceptions. A woman could have an abortion if the pregnancy endangered her life (or her health, in a major and permanent way), or if it resulted from incest or rape.
If this law were passed, I wonder if this last exception might not be problematic. Of the three, it’s the most difficult to verify. A doctor can determine whether a woman’s health is in danger as a result of the pregnancy (setting aside for the moment any argument about how much health risk is enough to warrant an abortion). And a DNA test can indicate whether incest occurred.
But rape, that can be a lot more difficult. While many rapes are probably attested to by a lot of evidence, for at least some rapes, the evidence likely boils down to the testimony of the victim. And herein lies the problem.
If a woman can get an abortion by saying she was raped, a woman who has consensual sex and then decides she might want to get an abortion if she got pregnant as a result has an incentive to falsely claim she was raped. But an even larger problem than women falsely claiming rape is that attorneys representing men accused of rape will know that women have this incentive. So, one would suspect, they will bring it up at every opportunity, suggesting that perhaps a victim of rape is just claiming rape in order to be able to get an abortion should she get pregnant.
I don’t know law at all, but my understanding is that the legal treatment of rape victims has changed for the better just in the last few decades. We’ve moved from an approach where women who say they were raped are assumed to either be lying or to have somehow brought the rape on themselves, to an approach where women who say they were raped are assumed to be telling the truth and are not though to be to blame. I wonder, though, if the incentive to falsely claim rape might not lead to a return to bad treatment of rape victims; skeptical judges and juries may think that victims are just claiming rape in order to keep their abortion options open. While some women may actually do this, I would guess that their number would be dwarfed by the number of real rape victims who would suffer worse treatment because of this suspicion about their motives.
I don’t know what the solution to this problem is. Am I overlooking something obvious? What would you suggest?
- 2 February 2007