Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Unwanted Pregnancy, Mercy, and Solidarity

Cristina L.H. Traina*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Over the last half century, United States debates about abortion focused at first on the question whether the fetus is a person with rights and later on whether involuntary conception—for instance, as a consequence of sexual assault—might mitigate a woman’s responsibilities toward the fetus she carries. This article argues that, whatever one’s position on these two questions, a third, morally salient dimension of most US women’s experiences of unwanted pregnancy deserves more attention: both abortion and birth burden women with their inevitable moral failure to fulfill their responsibilities to persons who frequently have de facto last-resort and unavoidable claims on them. Using Lisa Tessman’s work on moral failure and Pope Francis’s interventions on abortion and mercy, I argue that this moral anguish is not a simple emotional remainder. Structural evil, not necessity, is the primary driver of forced pregnancy choices that injure women and their children both materially and morally. Consequently, whether they abort or carry to term, women with unwanted pregnancies need mercy or forgiveness. But they also need compassionate solidarity: prophetic, active efforts to transform the social structures that make material harm and moral failure, and consequent moral anguish and moral injury, inevitable for many pregnant women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)658-681
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Religious Ethics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • Catholic Church
  • Lisa Tessman
  • Pope Francis
  • abortion
  • epikeia
  • interruptibility
  • mercy
  • moral failure
  • moral harm
  • pregnancy
  • solidarity
  • structural evil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


Dive into the research topics of 'Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Unwanted Pregnancy, Mercy, and Solidarity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this