Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 65(3) August 2015

Ethical Dilemmas Regarding the Fetus:
Rape as a Case Study.

Christina Kapsimalakou (MS,PhD) 2nd Department of Radiology, Medical School of Athens, Greece.
Christos Papaloucas Thrace University, Anatomy Laboratory, Alexandroupolis, Greece.
Priest John Kokakis(MS,MD), 1st Department of Radiology, Medical School of Athens, Greece.
Efstathia Kalamatianou (MS), Pelloponissos University, Greece.
Vassilis Kouloulias (MS,MD, PhD,), 2nd Department of Radiology, Medical School of Athens, Greece.


By concentrating on abortion, especially after rape or incest, the debate between moral and immoral has been recast and reframed as a contest between rival values, namely, the right to life and the right of choice.

After decades of research on hormones that determine the physiology of conception, and after clinical trials in Puerto Rico in 1956, in May 1960 the circulation of Enovid, the first contraceptive pill was approved by the Department of Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. In the first two years of its release, the pill was used by two million women in the U.S. and its use was spread throughout the world quickly, albeit with significant differences in preference and acceptance from country to country. The pill has revived the question whether contraception is immoral and against nature and the law of God. Although the Catholic Church is the institution that is best known to have dealt with the issue, the topic concerns society in general. [1,2]

More recently, the morning after pill, which can lead to the prevention of implantation after fertilization of the ovum, has been released. In contrast to contraception, this can act against human life after hours or days and therefore poses different ethical issues.[3]

Since the earliest days of the Church, the intentional killing of the fetus was recognized as a fundamental failure of the duty of love and as one of the worst possible acts, whether the fetus was considered a person already or not. The humble obedience required of Christians is incompatible with violence against any human being including the unborn. Thus the rhetorically powerful slogan ‘It’s a child, not a choice’ encapsulates the claim that the fetus is already a human being (‘child’) and therefore has moral and legal rights that cannot be trampled by mere choice.

The language of the Church in regard to abortion and other bioethical issues is rooted in a call to holiness, which directs life in pursuit of the Kingdom of God (Eschatology). The central concept is that all acts that destroy unborn life are serious errors. As for the distinction between embryos and pre-embryos, Basil the Great warns: “He is a killer who destroys an unformed and imperfect fetus, because although it is not yet a perfect creature, it is destined to be perfected in the future, according to the sequence of inviolable laws of nature.” [5] Similarly, S. Gelfand, in his essay “Marquis: a defense of abortion?”, observes that according to Marquis abortion is wrong because such an act deprives one of ‘all the experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one’s future. In other words, killing a fetus denies the fetus the value of its future. [6]

Faced with the tragic case of a pregnancy as a result of rape we argue in this paper that, while we ought to do everything to prevent fertilisation, abortion is not a solution to rape. The experience cannot be undone and should be responded with compassion and support. For many rape victims who find themselves pregnant, the biggest trauma is not being pregnant but the memory of being raped.[7] S. Krason points out that ‘psychological studies have shown that, when given the proper support, most pregnant rape victims progressively change their attitudes about their unborn child from something repulsive to someone who is innocent and uniquely worthwhile.[8]. Thus, dealing with the woman pregnant from rape, can be an opportunity for us – both as individuals and society – to develop true understanding and charity. Is it not better to try to develop these virtues than to countenance an ethic of destruction as the solution?

Ιn fact, abortion is itself a violent and invasive procedure. It should be remembered that many women who are traumatised by abortion describe a sense of have been violated. According to Woodcock, in cases of abortion, even certain kinds of information can lead to emotional harm in the form of guilt, shame and other negative feelings. [9]

Let us elaborate our points a little further. The language of pro-life and pro- choice reveals a fundamental fault line in a battle of the ‘culture wars’. Pro- choice advocates claim that the pro-lifers lack compassion, since the pro-lifer’s position on rape and incest forces a woman to carry her baby against her will. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the rapist who has already forced the woman to carry a child, not the pro-lifer. The pro-life lobby has merely wanted to prevent another innocent human being – the unborn entity- from becoming the victim of a violent and morally reprehensible act, namely, abortion. Thus, Dr. M. Bauman, as ethicist and theologian, has rightly observed: “A child does not lose its right to life simply because its father or its mother was a sexual criminal or a deviant.” [10]

It is the rapist who is the aggressor. Hence, abortion cannot be justified on that basis. In addition, it is socially unacceptable to judge a child by his/her father’s actions or, worse, punish a child for the crime of the father. A child may be conceived as the result of a rape but the child cannot be held responsible.

To sum up, we have argued that the fetus is, indeed, a person and has a right to life . The procedure of abortion tends to create feelings of guilt, anxiety and strong emotional reactions to the recognizable form of a human fetus. We can say that, in the case of rape, what makes it a terrible crime is not the potential for a woman to become pregnant but the reality that she has been subjected to a violent and humiliating attack. In the final analysis, it is important to remember what Pope Benedict said on plane (en route to Sao Paolo) : ‘Life is a gift. Life is not a threat. The roots of this legislation (permitting abortion) lie in a certain selfishness on one hand and on the other hand in a doubt about the value of life, about the beauty of life and also a doubt about the future. The Church must respond above all to these doubts.”[11]


In this paper we are faced with a concrete dilemma: is abortion justifiable in cases of rape or incest? On the one hand, the Christian tradition asserts that abortion is morally wrong and bases its argument on the following premise: the fetus is a person. On the other hand,secular bioethicists demand an ethical and legal world in which choices about life are taken deliberately and lawfully – for all of us, not just for fetuses. It remains to be seen how we structure a humane and life-affirming framework for the crucial decisions we all face in matters of life.  Whatever decision she makes, the woman who is pregnant following rape requires to be treated with the utmost respect. She is a victim. Her unborn child need not be.


  1. The relevant bibliography is rich. See as indicative of the topic of abortion Εdouard, L. and Olatunbosum, O. (2000), “Sexual and Reproductive Rights, Statements, Rhetoric and Responsabilities”, The British Journal of Family Planning, 26, 44-47.
  2. Cooley, D., (2000), “Good Enough for the Third World”, The Journal of Medicine & Philosophy, 25, 427-450.
  3. Issues in Bioethics, Life, Society and Nature in the face of chal lenges of BioSciences (2013), Edited by S. K. Tsinorema-Louis, University Press of Crete, 60-61
  4. ‘Beyond abortion: The looming battle over death in the ‘culture wars’’, Bioethics,
  5. Basil the Great, Πηδάλιον, Canon ΙΙ.
  6. Gelfand D. S.(2001), ‘Marquis: A defense of abortion?’, Bioethics, 15, 137-138.
  7. Mahkorn and Dolan, (1981), Sexual Assault and Pregnancy: New Perspectives on Human Abortion.
  8. Krason, S., (1984), Abortion: Politics, Morality, and the Constitution, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 284.
  9. Woodcock, S., (2011), ‘Abortion counseling and the informed consent dilemma’, Bioethics; 25, 495-504.
  10. Bauman, M., (1990), ‘Verbal Plunder: Combatting the Feminist Encroachment on the Language of Religion and Morality’, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana, 16.
  11. 3 May 2007 [Accessed 9 May 2007]
  12. Krason, S., (1984), Abortion: Politics, Morality, and the Constitution, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 283.

Corresponding author:

Dr. V. Kouloulias Kapodistrian
University of Athens, Medical School.
Kyvelis St. 14, Rafina, 19009
Fax: 2105326418