Cardinal Ouellet of the Archdiocese of Quebec probably did not expect to ignite a controversy when he spoke at a pro-life conference in May and reiterated long-held Catholic teaching on abortion. Yet within days, journalists, feminist groups and politicians across the province were expressing anger and indignation at the cardinal’s statements, in which he declared his opposition to abortion in all cases, including rape.

In answer to a reporter’s question, Ouellet had said, “The child is not responsible for how he was conceived, it is the aggressor who is responsible. We can see (the child) as another victim.” He faced a storm of criticism in political and media circles but refused to back away from his supposedly controversial comments.

Amongst the results in a Canadian poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion, published in January, 24 per cent of respondents said they would prefer that abortions in the last six months of pregnancy be restricted to cases of danger to life, rape or serious defect with another 13 per cent opting to allow abortion during the first three months of pregnancy, but only if the mother’s life is in danger, if she have been the victim of rape, or if the child has serious defects, and another  six per cent said a women should be able to have an abortion at any time during their pregnancy, but only in cases of danger to life, rape or serious defect. The rape and incest exception is deeply ingrained in the culture, even among those generally opposed to abortion.

Proper statistics on rape are notoriously difficult to determine due to unreliable reporting, and the rate of pregnancies per rape is even less certain. While the statistics already indicate that the likelihood of conceiving through rape is low, one important factor many statisticians fail to take into account is the inhibiting effect of emotional trauma on a woman’s reproductive functions. This physiological factor would suggest even lower numbers than generally sited. Nevertheless, readers may remember how the rape exception was used by early pro-abortion activists as an argument to push legalization.

The widespread belief in the legitimacy of this exception and its tenacious hold on the public mind recently spurred Campaign Life Coalition to prepare a statement pointing out the injustice of executing a child for the crime of his father. “In a civilized country we punish the guilty and not the innocent,” the statement said. “Why then are we suggesting capital punishment for the innocent unborn child rather than the guilty rapist?” The statement also pointed out that the negative effects of undergoing an abortion can only serve to compound the grievous harm of the rape, while on the other hand, “Carrying the child to term has been for many women a help in coming to grips with the abuse they suffered. Many victims of rape and children born of these attacks have testified to these truths.”

Angelina Steenstra, the victim of a date rape, opposed the rape exception to abortion and views it as a wedge issue to promote a broader abortion agenda.

Angelina Steenstra is one such victim. When she became pregnant as a teenager through a traumatic date rape, she sought to resolve her situation through an abortion. Now after years of suffering and a change in conviction, she has become president of Second Chance Post Abortion Healing and national coordinator of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign. Steenstra spoke to The Interim about how her own experiences back Cardinal Ouellet’s beliefs: “In rape you have the woman who’s been victimized by being sexually violated against her will, which then results in the conception of a new person. And when you offer to a woman an abortion, you offer to her another violation through what I call the violence of abortion.”

She mused: “How do you speak into a world that has denigrated motherhood, that has made the child her enemy or her opposition rather than her joy and her delight? …if the child is conceived through a violation such as rape, it doesn’t make (the woman) any less of a mother, and doesn’t make the child any less of a baby, any less of a person. And to put that wedge between mother and child because of the manner in which the conception took place, is to do something, to rupture something in the woman, and that’s a rupture I personally experienced.”

As to the puzzle of why so many people still support abortion for cases of rape and incest, even if they oppose it in all other cases, Steenstra replied, “we’ve been taught to think this way.” She called the rape exception a cleverly marketed way of promoting abortion as “the ultimate situation where abortion should be acceptable.”

Deborah Morlani is another woman with a perspective to offer, though a slightly different one. She was conceived when her mother was date-raped at 16. In this case, her mother chose to carry her child to term and even raise her. Morlani, now a mother of five, a registered nurse, and a grad student working on her Master of Theology degree, writes and gives talks in support of the right to life for the unborn.

“Children conceived in rape or incest are worth no less than children conceived in any other way,” she said in a telephone interview following the Ouellet controversy. “Children like myself who were conceived in rape are human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect like everyone else.” The rape scenario has been used as a ploy to gain popular sympathy for abortion, she said, echoing Steenstra. “Some use it as a way to open up the door to all abortions. So there’s a manipulation there in using a worst-case scenario to tug at people’s heart strings.”

Morlani also expressed her gratitude to Cardinal Ouellet for being “a true and faithful shepherd in defending all of God’s children from conception.”