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Abortion Doesn’t Solve the Problem of Rape

One horror does not justify another.

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Credit: Lorie Shaull

Before Hadley Duvall became a household name in the state of Kentucky, she was just a regular college student, involved in soccer and cheerleading and studying psychology. Yet behind the athletic scholarships, the jet skis, and the family cabin was deep trauma. Her mother, Jennifer Adkins Miller, had a years-long history of drug abuse, and her step-father, Miller’s husband, had sexually abused Duvall from the time she was 5 years old until she was 15.

The overturn of Roe v. Wade led Duvall to speak out publicly for the first time, in a social media post that would garner the attention of the Democratic political operatives behind Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s campaign for reelection. On camera for Beshear’s campaign, Duvall told voters a snippet of her story: She became pregnant at 12 years old by her abuser. Who are you, she asked the Republican candidate by name, to tell 12-year-old raped girls they should not have “options”? The indication was that Duvall had personally benefited from an abortion. 

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The ad went at least as viral as Beshear’s campaign hoped. Raking in several million views online, Duvall’s testimony may have been the very thing the Democratic governor needed to win in an otherwise very red state, where the state law since Roe only permits an abortion if the life of the mother is at risk. The testimony of an upper-middle-class white girl—no uterus hat or screaming protests—made the issue of adding rape and incest exceptions to the post-Roe trigger law, and the Democratic governor championing them, look appealingly moderate. Yet like Duvall’s family, the real story of her abortion, as fleshed out by Washington Post on Monday, is messier. 

At 12 years old, under the watchful eye of her abusive step-father Jeremy Whitledge, Duvall took her first pregnancy test after a delayed menstrual cycle. The test was positive. Whitledge urged the young girl to either frame the neighbor boy, or he would drive her to Louisville to get an abortion. At the time, Duvall said, she didn’t even know what an abortion was. Two weeks later, she miscarried, something she also didn’t understand until later. The whole incident remained hidden, while Whitledge continued to abuse Duvall for another two years. 

What went through the 12-year-old’s mind during those two weeks of uncertainty is unknown, but when she recounted the story for the police in 2017, Duvall told officers the pregnancy test had been negative. Four years later, she told her cousin otherwise. 

In June 2022, the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case brought the issue under Duvall’s nose again. In an Instagram post which garnered more than three times as many likes as her other pictures, she told her story publicly for the first time: “The same week this photo was taken I also had just taken my first pregnancy test. It was positive. Was I sexually active? No. I was impregnated from being raped by my step-father at the time.” 

The then-20-year-old goes on: “Thankfully, I had my CHOICE. I never had to go through with my decision, but I would have. I couldn’t imagine not having that choice. & if you can look at a CHILD & tell them they have to carry their parent’s child, you are sick.” 

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The world boasts many sick men. Those who seek to protect the weak from slaughter by the strong are not among them. One horror does not justify another in the premeditated murder of an unborn child. There is a solution to wicked men who abuse their step-daughters, and it is not to obliterate another human being. 

Indeed, legal protection for the unborn child serves to heighten the seriousness of Whitledge’s crime, in the eyes of both the law and public opinion. This has the effect of preventing others from committing the same crime. Had Duvall’s baby survived, he could have furnished irrefutable proof of the rapist’s wrongdoing by way of a DNA test; if the child’s rights were recognized regardless of his birth status, Whitledge’s insistence on an abortion would be another strike against the abuser. 

Moreover, while the trauma of rape must certainly be lifelong, the often overlooked trauma of abortion leaves permanent, painful scars too: nightmares, flashbacks, depression, and other classic symptoms of PTSD. Forced abortions are especially traumatic for the women who undergo them, for obvious reasons. Had Duvall gone through with an abortion at the age of 12 years at her rapist’s behest, this would almost certainly have added insult to years of injury. 

Duvall’s tragedy cannot be overstated, and should not be dismissed. It should also not be reduced to those crimes which are politically correct to hate. Duvall’s convicted step-father, who is now serving 20 years in prison, forced her to endure something most of us cannot begin to imagine. Then, when his abominable behavior threatened to bear out living and breathing evidence to condemn him, he demanded that his victim commit a murder to cover up his crime. We might call this many things, but not “choice.”

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