Women who become pregnant from rape or incest have suffered an unconscionable act of violence.
Unfortunately, society often coerces the woman into another act of violence against her preborn child, the second victim of the crime. Rather than pressure her into an abortion, society should counsel and support the mother’s recovery so that she is empowered to carry her child to term and heal from her attack.
A study by Holmes et al. (1996) found that 38% of women who become pregnant from rape choose to keep their children, while 50% choose to abort and 12% suffer miscarriages. This abortion rate of 50% is not significantly higher from the abortion rate among U.S. women who find themselves in unexpected pregnancies generally (42%). Among women who choose to give birth to their preborn children conceived in rape, a study by Makhorn (1979) found that two-thirds developed more positive feelings toward their pregnancies and children over time and that feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, and fear decreased.
The researcher found the primary problem facing the rape victim is not pregnancy, but the attitudes projected by others:
“The belief that pregnancy following rape will emotionally and psychologically devastate the victim reflects the common misconception that women are helpless creatures who must be protected from the harsh realities of the world. [This study illustrates] that pregnancy need not impede the victim’s resolution of the trauma; rather, with loving support, non judgmental attitudes, and emphatic communication, healthy emotional and psychological responses are possible despite the added burden of pregnancy.”
Makhorn, S.K., Pregnancy and Sexual Assault, Psychological Aspects of Abortion,
Washington, D.C., University Publications, 1979.