Richard Mourdock on Rape and God’s Plan

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.”

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Niemand

    There’s a comment on a post about abortion on Fr. Longenecker’s site: “Early spontaneous abortions are unknown and unfelt and the woman involved doesn’t usually know that there is a child within her.” This comment is very telling, although not in the way the author intended.

    Note how the death of the “child” is dismissed. It is unimportant, apparently, because it is unknown. But this makes no sense if the concern is for the rights of the “child”. If a real child were dying under a bridge, alone and unknown to anyone else, no normal person would declare that that was ok because it was “unknown and unfelt”. No, we would feel the horror of this child dying alone and the failure of society to protect this child, even though it was suffering a “natural” death and not being murdered by anyone. (Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the child is a newborn and the mother died giving birth under the bridge, so there is no one who abandoned it and it’s no one in particular’s fault that it’s there.)

    If one really believed that the concepti which die before or shortly after implantation were babies, wouldn’t one feel that to be equally horrid? And that their alone and unknown state made their deaths even worse, not better?

    • John Evans

      It also stirs up a lot of difficult questions when you run into unusual situations like twins, chimeric pregnancies, and molar pregnancies.

      How many people are identical twins? How many people is a chimeric child? If only one, what happened to the other? Is a molar pregnancy a person? If not, when does it stop being one?

    • kisekileia

      Do they mean unfelt by the woman or unfelt by the embryo/fetus?

  • machintelligence

    I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will

    Since God’s will trumps everything, why not? */snark*
    This is why it is so hard to argue rationally with the religious.

  • smrnda

    Part of this is just misogyny – a woman who gets raped is just an extra in a movie starring God and a fetus and white, male conservative lawmakers.

    • Bruce McGlory

      not even an extra. She’s a prop. A walking incubator that only functions properly when controlled by a white straight male christian (in the US, at least)

    • anon

      Let’s be blunt. From both side of the political isle… the raped woman is a prop. One side uses her to “sell” their position, the other side tries to hide her away. Neither side has done much at all to prevent or comfort. Both movies are about a politician and his precious peice of just and noble law.

      But as a woman who stars lead in my own movie, the rape, the child and the belief in God’s plan were all integral plot points, and have made a pretty compelling story for me.

  • Emma

    Regarding your point about women who choose to have babies conceived by rape: have you read this post? It’s by a woman who was raped, got pregnant, and chose to have the baby anyway. She’s not a pro-lifer: I haven’t seen her explicitly say she’s pro-choice, but the fact that she consistently uses phrasing like “women who choose to have babies conceived by rape,” and the lack of moralizing about why women who abort such pregnancies are wrong, is a pretty good indication.

    Since having her kid, she’s become a legal advocate for women who make her choice. In particular, she’s fighting to change laws to prevent rapist fathers from having the same parental rights as non-rapist fathers. In many states, if they don’t have such exceptions, women who have children conceived via rape sometimes find themselves being sued by their rapists for custody/visitation rights. I really can’t imagine how awful that is.

    • smrnda

      I’ve read about that (rapists having paternal rights) and am happy that someone is taking on this issue. I would never choose to have a baby (especially as the result of rape) but if a woman becomes pregnant through rape, it’s her choice, and if she does make that choice the rapist shouldn’t get rights to the kid.

  • Doe

    I agree with you 100% on the rape exemption nightmare. I think the reason that rape gets so much attention wrt abortion is because of the argument that a woman consents to pregnancy when she consents to sex. It’s a lot easier to convince people that those slutty sluts deserved what they got than to say that god wants babies to result from rape. I picked up a book from a resale store the other day that was written by a woman from a crisis pregnancy center. Her argument as to why pregnancy from rape should be continued is because “a child shouldn’t be killed because its father was a rapist.” No mention of the mother, of course.

    I don’t know how much you know about the Indiana Senate race, but basically every Tea Party organization poured tons of money into the Indiana primary to get Mourdock into the race. He beat Richard Lugar in the primary, who has held the seat for like six terms or something ridiculous. His entire campaign has been about how Lugar compromised too much and he, Mourdock, would never stoop so low as to compromise with those damn dirty Dems. It will be hilarious if the Republicans lose the seat altogether (as they never would if Lugar was running against Donnelly).

    • smrnda

      Also, women usually will take the morning after pill after a rape so that the need for an abortion will be greatly reduced. I don’t buy that *possibly* causing a fertilized egg not to implant is the same as abortion at all, and seriously, it happens all the time without any medical intervention.

      I do agree that the problem is refusing to even see the woman. “The father of this zygote/baby was a rapist, why hold it against the zygote/(‘baby’)?” I’m thinking part of this might just be the conservative idea of the proper role for woman, where women have no agency at all.

      • Doe

        I think you’re right about the proper role for women being at the core of it. Because the proper role for women in the conservative mindset is to sacrifice anything and everything for her child. If there’s any way the mother’s needs are coming before the child’s needs then conservatives won’t support it. They don’t support working moms or single moms because they believe the child needs a dad at work and a mom in the home, and moms should sacrifice their selfish desires to make that happen. Abortion, to them, is the ultimate example of a mother refusing to give up her needs and place the child above herself, so of course it’s the pinnacle of irresponsibility and should be stopped. It’s hard to oppose that mindset, because women don’t have an identity except as mothers and what mother wouldn’t sacrifice to do what’s best for her child?

      • Anonymouse

        @Doe; you are absolutely right about the conservative idea that the woman should sacrifice everything for her child. Recently in Florida (naturally it was Florida), a man took his wife and their children hostage, drove around terrorizing them for awhile, broke into a mobile home and shot the elderly woman owner in front of his wife and kids, then stabbed the wife in the chest (punturing and deflating her lung) and proceeded to kill the kids. The wife and one child survived the attack. A shocking amount of commenters on this story are blaming the woman for all of this for not fighting to the death to protect her children. It’s not the fault of the man who kidnapped, terrorized, and stabbed them…it’s all the woman’s fault for not dying.

      • Christine

        I don’t understand how anyone who has intentionally had a baby can hold that possibly preventing implantation can be murder. There’s no way that you’re going to allow it to happen several times naturally if you think that’s wrong. (My views on abortion changed when we started planning a family).

      • Rosie

        THIS. This is why I’ve felt for most of my life that the best I could do is find some way to die saving somebody else. That’s really a woman’s only approved role. I might call it an Eowyn Complex: wishing for death in such a way that it validates one’s existence….

    • machintelligence

      Her argument as to why pregnancy from rape should be continued is because “a child shouldn’t be killed because its father was a rapist.

      The following argument is from a genetic and biological perspective, rather than a religious or ethical one (sorry but I’m a biologist). If we condemn rape and rapists there is no reason to reward them by allowing their genes to be carried into the next generation as a result of rape. Since all definable behaviors have been shown to have a genetic component in the range of 25 to 70 percent (see Steve Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” for discussion and lots of references), the fetus will be carrying genes “for” using rape as a reproductive strategy. It is therefore a benefit to society to prevent it from being born.

      If there were such a thing as a curse “upon children unto the third and fourth generation” this would be a candidate.

      • Kristen inDallas

        wow. innocent until proven guilty?

  • Steve

    In Britain, the UK or Canada he would have been asked to resign within hours of saying that

  • Bix

    I hadn’t seen that Obama quote before. It’s really good. I agree that the focus on rape is really obscuring, and that no one seems to think about how a ban on abortion with a rape exception would actually work. Rape is a serious crime (that isn’t always taken very seriously by the police or the prosecution), rape trials take a long time and are absolutely hellish, and the rate of conviction is very small. What happens to the woman during this time period? Does she have to wait for conviction to get an abortion? Doctors have an obligation to report abuse to the police. What happens when a woman comes in for an abortion, says she was raped, and doesn’t want to pursue prosecution? Will she be prevented from obtaining the abortion? If the alleged rapist is found not guilty, will he be given parental rights? If the woman aborted and the alleged rapist was found not guilty, will she be prosecuted for the abortion? Who gets to decide all of this? Because something tells me that if abortion were banned except in cases of rape and incest, the woman wouldn’t be allowed to be the sole arbiter of her experiences and her response to a pregnancy.

    • Randy

      Actually the Obama quote is horrid. He is clueless about democracy. If the majority think something should be illegal then it should be illegal. Whether that is based on a religious doctrine for some, most, or all of them matters not. It cannot violate the fundamental rights but most things don’t.

      Does he really thing that if every American thinks hunting eagles should be illegal for religious reasons then somehow because the reasons are religious it should remain legal? Weird.

      • Libby Anne

        So a theocracy is a-okay if the majority wants it? You’re mistaken here because people’s rights are not up to a majority vote. Have you ever heard of the saying that “democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on who to eat for dinner”? That’s what would happen if you had strict majority rule, and that’s why we don’t – first, we have a republic, not a democracy, and second, we don’t let minority rights be dictated by the majority. What you are describing is a recipe for oppression.

      • Maria Lima

        The majority of Germans approved what Hitler was doing, so it was ok, right?

      • smrnda

        Obama’s point is that public policy must be grounded on arguments that are not purely religious ones. If killing eagles is against my religion that isn’t grounds for it being illegal, or at least not an argument I should be making. If eagles are an endangered species and hunting them might lead to extinction, that’s a point that (according to Obama) could be advanced since it relies on utilitarian rather than religious arguments.

      • Nathaniel

        “If the majority think something should be illegal then it should be illegal.”

        The Constitution was written to protect us from political geniuses like you.

      • Kevin Alexander

        Randy, you have a common erroneous idea of what democracy is. As others have pointed out it doesn’t mean rule by the majority. If that were true then any immoral smooth talker on Fox News would rule.

        The US is a constitutional democracy. That means that the CONSTITUTION rules, not the people. Elections are only about picking the people who will play the game according to the rules.

      • Bix

        Actually, one of the defining features of a democratic republic is that it protects minority groups–or it’s supposed to, anyway. The United States isn’t run like American Idol. We don’t decide reality by majority vote. If that were the case, people might vote in some things you’d be deeply upset about, Randy, but the majority wins, eh?

      • Niemand

        If the majority think something should be illegal then it should be illegal.

        Let’s say the majority of people in your country, whatever country that is, believe that Christianity should be illegal and punished by the practitioners being fed to lions. That’s cool with you?

      • Steve

        The US is a constitutional Republic, not a democracy. When they country was founded “democracy” referred to a direct democracy which was seen as little better than anarchy. And the frequent abuse and horrible results of the referendum process we see today show that they were right.

      • BabyRaptor

        No, you’re the clueless one. Laid out in points:

        1) A major theme of the Constitution is making sure that the will of the majority does not deprive the minority rights.

        2) The majority of people in this country are not pro-forced birth.

        3) Forced birthism violates my, and other womens’ rights in many ways: Our right to bodily autonomy, our right to make our own decisions, our right to live by our beliefs and not someon elses’…

        4) Would you really be saying this if the hypothetical majority you’re cheering was stepping on a right you wanted? I highly doubt it.

      • Kristen inDallas

        @smrnda “If eagles are an endangered species and hunting them might lead to extinction, that’s a point that (according to Obama) could be advanced since it relies on utilitarian rather than religious arguments”

        …only to an extent. The problem is that most things when questioned rely on a person’s idea of religion/morality at some point. Eagles becoming extinct is only a good argument if you accept that it is bad for eagles to cease to exist. Why is it bad? Biodiversity? why is that good? Answers sound good to a point but evenyually they all fall back on some kind of a moral framework. The thing is, we don’t usually see this fairly, because reporters tend to keep asking consistantly pro-life politicians “why” they don’t agree with exeptions for rape. Even if one were well coached and responded first with “because all human life is important” the “why” followup will point to God again. No reporters (no big ones that I’m aware of) bother asking the why question to inconsistant pro-life candidates (as in why is it right in cases of rape/murder) or pro-choice ones (as in why do we value a woman’s happines above anothers life) Answers there, if they were ever pushed as hard as the pro-life ones, would eventually lead back to a moral opinion that others may or may not subscribe to.

  • jose

    I can’t believe this Donnelly guy. An anti abortion democrat. How far to the right has the democratic party moved?

    • lucifermourning

      in fairness, there are pro-choice Republicans. i’m not sure how common they are in Congress, but they very definitely exist, and do get elected (for example, Christie Todd Whitman, who was governor of New Jersey).

      this often tends to be a state-by-state thing – very conservative states get anti-abortion Democrats, very liberal ones get pro-choice Republicans. not always, but often.

    • Steve

      In an international context, the Democrats are a center-right party. They aren’t even social democrats in the European sense. In other countries, many of their positions are taken up by moderate conservatives. There is no true left in America. There is no organized socialist party.

      • kisekileia

        Agreed. The Conservatives in Canada have gotten more right-wing lately, due in part to Fox News brainwashing and its associated mentalities flowing north, but in the past they were no further right than the Democrats. In the ’90s Conservatives in the part of Canada where I live and Democrats in the U.S. were dismantling the welfare system in very similar ways.

      • kisekileia

        The U.S. does have the Greens as a true left party, but they’re marginal because of the two-party system, even though I suspect a lot of true progressives in the U.S. have beliefs that are more Green than Democrat. If I were in the U.S., I’d probably vote Democrat in races where the Republicans had a serious chance of winning and Green in other races.

      • kisekileia

        I’d vote Democrat if the Republicans had a serious but not certain chance of winning, that is. If it were certain, I’d probably vote Green.

  • OurSally

    @Maria Lima

    mentioning Hitler or Nazis in a post not about them is called a Godwin (google it). I call Godwin and award myself a nice foamy Latte.

    • neadods

      Calling Godwin is to avoid an uncomfortable truth aimed at the original comment: Hitler was indeed elected by majority vote. So was Saddam Hussain in 2002; there’s no internet rule about invoking his name. Many tyrants and dictators have been elected into office throughout the world and througout history by majority vote *of those allowed to vote.*

      Which is another issue handwaved by Randy – how legitimate is the vote of a majority when only a minority of the public is allowed to vote in the first place? How legitimate a vote is a “majority” when the votes can’t be or won’t be verified?

      • Niemand

        Actually, Hitler was elected in a plurality vote: he only got about 30% of the vote but no other party got even that much and he managed to get a coalition government together with himself in charge and get “emergency powers” shortly thereafter and after that he didn’t take opinion polls. Hussein’s election by 98% of the vote is largely regarded as unrepresentative.

        Not that that invalidates your point. A majority of Americans used to think that segregation was a good idea, for example, which is why putting rights to a vote is generally a bad plan.

      • kisekileia

        And this would be why the U.S. now requires international observers at its elections, and why there have been threats to arrest those observers. Yes, more than a minority of the public is allowed to vote, but voter ID laws and laws prohibiting felons from voting disenfranchise a lot of people. It’s also not easy to verify votes done by machine, especially when the machines are owned by a candidate’s son.

    • Maria Lima

      I totally agree with you that Hitler is invoked in all kind of circumstances that have nothing to do with the subject in hand. But in this case, it is a perfect example of why the simple majority is not a legitimate source of what should be done in a country. Nazi German was a tyranny, but one with which most of the people agreed at the time.

  • Judy L.

    The United States is a constitutional democracy, which means that people’s rights are protected and not subject to popular vote, except, apparently, when it comes to initiatives and referenda where the goal is to restrict the rights of gay people by writing anti-gay discrimination into State Constitutions.

    Rights are not supposed to be subject to a majority vote; that’s why they’re called RIGHTS. True Democracy doesn’t work, because true democracy is like two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for dinner. Unless the lamb is protected by a constitution that has the force of an army behind it, or is particularly well-armed himself, he doesn’t stand a chance.

  • pagansister

    Mourdock is still running—which is absurd! How would any woman vote for a man who thinks GOD wants a pregnancy to happen from a totally violent act—rape? Wait! since god controls everything—wonder if rape is planned to continue the species? So not my version of a divine being!

  • kisekileia

    On Donnelly’s position, I would say it’s also possible that he believes abortion is murder on one level, but on another level the death of the fetus isn’t as “real” to him emotionally as the pain a woman would experience if she had to carry a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest to term. He may also think the pain of a woman in that situation would be worse than death. Those positions are more where I was when I was a pro-lifer and believed in rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother exemptions for anti-abortion laws.

  • Kristen inDallas

    Hey libby! While I know that we don’t exactly see eye to eye on the abortion issue, I wanted to applaud you for tackling the damage being done when pols use the rape/incest framework. That seemingly “compromise” position of being pro-life except when… is very frustrating when you realize where that would lead on a practical level (false accusations of rape, rape victims being gruelled about their sexual history, being called liars and worse). And then why draw the line there? What about people who get pregnant as a result of deception, or coercion, what about those whose pregnancy would result in some other hardship (genetically mutated or disabled babies, babies resulting from infedelity where paternity would be obvious, etc) It just goes every where horrible where we are admitting that this is a valuable human life, but disregard it anyway if the child meets some definition of unworthy. Whatever the rules are, should be the rules for everyone regarless of the circumstances of conception. And yay to you for pointing out the inherrent sexism in positions like Donnely’s.

  • Peggy in Indiana

    It’s not just God and white male lawmakers. Sometimes it includes women who have never been raped who are judging women who have to decide what to do when they have been raped. Walk in their shoes, yes, but also remember Jesus taught us not to judge. It is not our place to judge another. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if I had been raped and conceived a child as a result of that rape when I was young enough to conceive a child. Can those women who stand around and want to make decisions for other women who are pregnant from rape say the same? If they are married with children, how does that impact their families, particularly their husbands? What about boyfriends, or if they are under 18, will their parents force them to have an abortion? There are all kinds of factors coming into play. Perhaps a young girl’s parents won’t even believe she has been raped at all! Sometimes pregnant girls are kicked out of their homes by their parents. Yet their are women who think they know what is best, and how they would choose if they were in these women’s and girls’ shoes. I am so glad for them. I don’t think life is so clear-cut, particularly when you are 15.