The internet is abuzz about statements made by Indiana’s Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Richard Mourdock, in last night’s debate:
Richard Mourdock, a Republican candidate running to represent Indiana in the Senate, has caused a great deal of controversy with a remark he made in the context of a discussion of whether abortion should be allowed for rape victims. His reply included the following:
I know that there are some who disagree and I respect their point of view but I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize that life is a gift from God, and I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something God intended to happen.
Not surprisingly, Mourdock’s opponents have pounced on the statement, and Mourdock himself has been quick to try to offer qualifications. He subsequently said:
What I said was, in answering the question from my position of faith, I said I believe that God creates life. I believe that as wholly and as fully as I can believe it. That God creates life. Are you trying to suggest that somehow I think that God pre-ordained rape? No, I don’t think that. That’s sick. Twisted. That’s not even close to what I said. What I said is that God creates life.
I think James McGrath over at Exploring Our Matrix made a great point when he said that the lesson to learn from Mourdock’s statement is this:
The lesson? It is advisable to figure out your theology before running for office. The problem is that, while Christians with unreflective theological views of the sort Mourdock holds regularly speak about God being in control in all things, or God being the one who creates life, they (1) do not give any thought to how to reconcile that with the natural causes they also accept as being at work, and (2) often balk at saying that God is responsible when bad things happen.
The result is an incoherent mess that leaves people offering meaningless platitudes which conservative Christians would say “Amen” too, only to find themselves apologizing for them and backtracking on them soon afterwards if pressed.
Yes, yes, yes. It’s quite difficult to on the one hand say that “God is in control” and “everything happens according to God’s plan” and on the other hand say God is not at all at fault when bad things happen. After all, if God is all powerful and in control and everything happens according to his plan, then, well, he lets rapes happen and those rapes that happen are according to his plan. This is what I was taught and I remember believing it. What we saw last night was that Mourdock hasn’t figured out how to mash God’s omnipotence and man’s free will together in a way that makes actual sense and not come across as, well, extremely offensive.
A couple of additional thoughts on this particular race.
First, Mourdock is anti-abortion, but Donnelly, his Democratic opponent, is anti-abortion too. The difference centers only on rape and incest exemptions. The candidates’ positions indicate that while Mourdock may actually believe the rhetoric about the murder of innocent babies Donnelly does not. If Donnelly really believes that abortion is the “murder” of “babies,” he shouldn’t be okay with the murder of any babies, regardless of how they are conceived. His use of an exemption indicates that what he actually believes is that unplanned and unwanted pregnancies are simply the “consequences” women should have to face for choosing to have sex (the sluts!), but that since women who are raped or victims of incest don’t choose to have sex, they shouldn’t be punished for it. In other words, Mourdock might possibly be genuine in his claim that it’s all about saving “innocent babies”, but Donnelly’s position is quite clearly anti-woman. This makes the choice voters are given lightly surreal.
Second, has anyone ever thought of the nightmare a rape exemption would result in? Who really thinks pregnant rape victims having to go before a judge to prove that they were raped, with an investigation into their personal lives, is anything but a recipe for disaster? The conversation on abortion has become way too focused on rape, and I think this is unfortunate. The issue isn’t whether rape victims should be forced to have their rapist’s baby. It’s whether women should be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. And also? The focus on allowing rape victims to have abortions – because how awful would it be to have to have your rapist’s baby! – has got to put women who choose to carry pregnancies resulting from rape to term in a rather uncomfortable spot. Instead of focusing on rape v. consensual sex, let’s focus on wanted pregnancy v. unwanted pregnancy, okay?
Third, Mourdock is openly bringing his religious beliefs into politics here. Back when I believed as he does, I would have said “what, do you want me to leave everything I believe at the statehouse door? My religious beliefs define who I am.” Just the other day I read a quote by Barack Obama that answers this question perfectly:
Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.
Basically, you can’t use your religious views in an argument about something like abortion, because not everyone shares your religious views. If you believe abortion is wrong and want it made illegal, then by all means argue that! But you have to find some universal foundation for arguing that. If you try to make it illegal based only on your religious views, you are dictating your religious beliefs on others. Mourdock doesn’t seem to care.
Here’s hoping people remember both this “gaffe” and Todd Akin’s “gaffe.”