Do we need another Todd Akin?

I’m not a fan, but at least Republican rape philosophers shine a light on the GOP’s radical views on abortion. As it stands, they’re passing laws that include no exceptions for rape survivors, and they’re doing it quietly:

Since January of this year, the overwhelming majority of abortion provisions introduced into state legislatures — 86 percent — apply to women who become pregnant as a result of rape. According to a report by the National Women’s Law Center, of the 273 anti-abortion state provisions surveyed, 235 lacked exceptions for rape survivors. Of the 38 anti-abortion provisions that actually passed in the states, 27 did not include exceptions for women pregnant from rape. A few states even highlighted the absence of rape exceptions. One proposed ban on abortion in Mississippi stated, “The State of Mississippi shall not punish the crime of sexual assault with the death penalty, and neither shall persons conceived through a sexual assault be punished with the loss of his or her life.”

Strong majorities of Americans believe laws restricting abortion should offer exceptions for rape and incest. And there is something that feels particularly cruel about forcing rape survivors to carry pregnancies to term — they’ve already been sexually violated, and it’s easy to see how legally compelling them to continue an unwanted pregnancy resulting from their assault could compound the violation and the mental and physical damage the assault wrought. Many of the abortion restrictions introduced and passed would be particularly arduous for rape survivors: Requiring physically invasive ultrasounds, making women to listen to the fetal heartbeat, or forcing patients to sit through medically inaccurate lectures intended to dissuade them from having abortions. Rape isn’t just a sex crime; it’s a crime that strips the victim of her sense of control and agency over her own body. Medical and mental health professionals who treat rape victims are often quick to assert that the most important thing you can do in support of a victim is to help her restore her sense of control, bodily autonomy and dignity. Restricting her access to abortion by making her jump through a series of unnecessary political hoops in order to obtain the procedure again denies her control of her own sexual and reproductive organs, and can re-traumatize a sexual violence survivor.

Even many of the abortion restrictions that do offer exceptions for rape or incest still wrest control out of the survivor’s hands. A third of abortion restrictions with rape exceptions require the victim to report the crime to the police, despite the fact that most rapes go unreported out of fear, shame or an attempt to regain a sense of control. Other rape exceptions go even further, applying only if the rape isn’t just reported but “verified,” or only where the rape is reported within 48 hours. Report your rape three days after the attack instead of two, and you’re out of luck.

Read the rest here.

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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Politics, Pregnancy, Rape Culture, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Assault and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Do we need another Todd Akin?

  1. Roboten says:

    Oh god, horrible. Though I gotta give them this: at least it’s the most consistent anti-abortion stance here, if an abortion is a murder the fetus would be as much a victim if it’s dad were a rapist or not. Still horrible though.

    • Tony says:

      This gets said a lot, but it’s not exactly true. There is a consistent theoretical position that says you support an abortion ban because pregnancy is a possible consequence if sex; if you choose to engage in x, you accept the possibility of y. If you were raped, you never chose x, so y is being thrust on you out out of the blue. I think it’s actually in the interests of pro choice advocates to point this out because it shows that a lot of the opposition to abortion rights is about the woman and what rights people think women deserve to have. The abortion rights issue is a woman centered and religion centered issue, but anti abortion rights advocates can’t win when it’s framed as women vs religion, so they try to pretend as if they are motivated by secular arguments about the fetus. While some people may really hold those positions, I think it’s a fundamental deception of what underlines ‘pro life’ political origin in the US and in other countries. So it’s important, I think, to keep in mind that there are a lot of people for whom the rape exception is important, and that it’s even a consistent position, even though we disagree with it.

      • Alexandra says:

        I think it’s important to distinguish between the political origins of the Pro-Life Movement and the particular reasons why individuals may oppose abortion. There are a whole lot of women who are opposed to abortion in all cases because of a belief in the fundamental humanity of the fetus, embryo, and zygote. Plenty of men, too.

        I think feminists and the pro-choice movement generally have been slowly losing the abortion rights movement in America in part because of the great power of the religious right in this country, and in part because pro-life activists have a much easier messaging job than pro-choice activists. It’s much easier to get a visceral reaction out of people by showing pictures, fraudulent or real, of a fetus after a late-term abortion, or by talking about killing babies, than it is to get that same visceral reaction by talking about women’s rights — in part because we live in a sexist world where women’s rights and personhood are routinely degraded and in part because the threat to individual women seems less immediate than the threat to a fetus, if we are treating that fetus as a full and equal person to the woman carrying it.

        I know plenty of people who started out vaguely pro-life if for no other reason than they hadn’t thought about it very hard, their church was pro-life, and abortion seemed so much like baby-killing it made them squeamish. Some of these people became more adamantly pro-life, some became pro-choice, and some are still squeamish, inclined to support bans on abortion after relatively arbitrary periods of time, or to support abortion only for survivors of rape or incest.

    • Pretty much. I mean, either the fetus matters or it doesn’t (it doesn’t). If you frame abortion as a murder it’s pretty stupid and immoral looking to then say it’s justifiable in some cases.

      A disservice is done to all women when we act as though there are justifiable and not-justifiable reasons to have an abortion.

      Politically, I think it might actually be better for the pro-choice side to have it framed this way, Abortion for All versus Abortion for None. Otherwise it’s too easy for people to be pro-life; they get to deny women bodily autonomy based on their sexist ideals, while making a very few exceptions for women that are viewed as having a more sympathetic, understandable reason to want to have an abortion.

      • Tony says:

        the fetus matters or it doesn’t … Politically, I think it might actually be better for the pro-choice side to have it framed this way, Abortion for All versus Abortion for None.

        I strongly disagree with this. I think it’s critical, possibly the decisive question in the “resolution” of this debate one way or another.

        If the fetus is centered and the question of “whether the fetus matters” determines your All or Nothing position, then we’re going to lose this and come out with Nothing. Generally, every pro-lifer knows that “because I’m Catholic” ain’t a winning arguments and they’ll claim they feel so strongly because they “care about the fundamental humanity of the fetus, embryo or zygote.” What I’m saying is that 90% of the time, that’s bullshit.

        But it’s bullshit that they sorely need. Because they know pretty well that if women are centered in this debate, then there’s no way that we can lose as long as the country stays away from theocracy. Think about the Todd Akin controversy and what was being centered there. That should give you a good idea where pro choice advocates have an advantage.

        In any case, I’ve said just about all I can say about this, if the implications of how this is framed aren’t apparent, I don’t know what else to say.

      • Roboten says:

        But if we look a the statistics we see that, according to wikipedia, 49% of americans support abortion being legal under a few circumstances, of which about 75% think it should be legal in the case of a rape. This seems to suggest that if one were to frame it like “abortions for all/abortions for none”, people who use the abortion issue as a method of controlling female sexuality will have to take a real stance on whether women who are raped would have to carry their children or not. By removing the “rape-cop out” the discussion can be shifted from being a question of sexuality to being a question of bodily autonomy.

        Or maybe not. I don’t know, this all seem so completly alien to my I have a hard time wrapping my head around it.

      • Donna L says:

        If you frame abortion as a murder it’s pretty stupid and immoral looking to then say it’s justifiable in some cases.

        No, I disagree. Society is always willing to take human life if there’s an important enough reason. The most rigid forced birther is probably just fine with dropping a bomb on the head of a pregnant woman in Afghanistan or Pakistan in the name of national security. Growing and selling tobacco is legal despite the fact that everyone knows that each year’s crop is going to cause hundreds of thousands of deaths. Having enormous trucks on the highways is important enough to interstate commerce that we accept the 30,000 deaths per year that are the inevitable result.

        So it doesn’t surprise me at all that society makes a judgment that abortion is justifiable in some cases, even if one does view it as taking a human life. (Even the worst forced birthers aren’t usually bold enough to say that saving the mother’s life doesn’t take precedence. Or to say that every woman who has an abortion should get the electric chair for first degree murder.)

      • Lu says:

        I think the fetus does matter but am also entirely pro-choice – they’re not necessary mutually exclusive. I believe that the rights of the person who is pregnant outweigh whatever rights the fetus may or may not have.

        I agree that the exceptions for rape are often about making the pro-lifers seem less cruel, rather than any consistent moral argument.

      • SunlessNick says:

        A right to live doesn’t entail a right for another person to be compelled to yield up their body for your life support – there’s no other context in which this isn’t immediately recognised. Thus, indeed, it’s not inconsistent to think a foetus has a right to life while remaining pro-choice.

      • amblingalong says:

        A disservice is done to all women when we act as though there are justifiable and not-justifiable reasons to have an abortion.

        There are lots of unjustifiable reasons to have an abortion. That doesn’t mean women shouldn’t still have the right to do so.

      • PrettyAmiable says:

        Name one?

      • Yes, v. curious what reasons to not allow one’s body to be used and invaded are unjustifiable.

      • Willemina says:

        Sex selective abortion because of cultural devaluing of women comes to mind as a possibility. That’s the only possible one that springs to mind for me though, and it’s something that needs social rather than legal change to influence.

      • Lolagirl says:

        I’ve also heard the argument made wrt abortion of fetuses that would otherwise be born with disabilities.

        All of which asks/expects us to envision the fetus as a born person instead of the fetus that it is when the decision is made to terminate any given pregnancy. And I know the old slippery slope argument is controversial at times, but I don’t think there is any doubt that arguing over the justifiability of terminating any of these pregnancies are all slippery slopes towards reducing one’s right to legal and safe abortions.

      • Well, yes, and believe me when I say that I consider it to be a problem too. But the answer to the systemic devaluing of women’s lives is not the systemic devaluing of women’s bodily autonomy. Not to mention, and I know this is a terrible and dehumanising bargain to strike, but I would rather the painless abortion of a lump of cells than the systematic lethal starvation of female-bodied infants. I don’t trust someone who’d abort a foetus explicitly for being female with a female-bodied infant. Would you?

      • I’ve also heard the argument made wrt abortion of fetuses that would otherwise be born with disabilities.

        Yes, well… I’d abort a foetus with disabilities. Mostly because I would never willingly carry any pregnancy to term (if I even can) because given my sexuality the chances of that foetus being the result of rape are pretty damn high, and I’ve got horrible tokophobia – seriously, I can’t even look at images of foetuses without extreme nausea and anxiety attacks. But also because I’m a low-income brown person with disabilities, and fuck me, there’s no decent standard of living I could provide. It’s hard enough giving my TAB kid a decent life, damn it. And I refuse, refuse, refuse to bear a child with disabilities only to give it up. As someone who sees no particular sanctity in the termination or existence of a foetus, it strikes me as cruel to carry a foetus to term that has a high chance of being physically/sexually abused and dehumanised for its entire existence by a bullshit ableist society, just because it’d be somehow un-PC or something to abort a foetus that happened to have disabilities when I would have aborted it even if it didn’t. That’s fucking ridiculous.

      • Willemina says:

        But the answer to the systemic devaluing of women’s lives is not the systemic devaluing of women’s bodily autonomy.

        As far as I can tell, no one here is saying that. I agree with your damned if you do/if you don’t position.

        I do reject the idea that talking about the problematic aspects of why people choose abortion must inevitably lead to a slippery slope. This definitely isn’t the thread or the place for that discussion, but it is possible to hold a legal concept immutable and feel morally ill at ease.

      • amblingalong says:

        The people above pretty much covered it. Again, I’m not saying I don’t think it should be legal, just that I don’t think it’s always morally OK.

        I don’t think being pro-choice requires that you always have to support every abortion ever for any reason.

      • Lolagirl says:

        Yeah, don’t get me wrong, Mac, I totally hear you. And I was totally prepared to terminate my most recent, surprise, pregnancy if the amniocentesis had revealed any abnormalities. For a multitude of reasons, among them the reality that I already had three other kids who needed my care, attention and continued well-being (both physical and psychological), as well as the possibility of the potential financial costs to our family, and so on.

        And I totally agree with you that the trade off of one’s right to their own bodily autonomy not being acceptable under any circumstances.

        Like I said, these appeals to one’s sense of justice when it comes to abortion of certain classes of fetus are pretty meaningless in the end. Because a fetus is not yet a person. Period. The end. No two ways around it. Trying to personalize the decision this way by saying but how awful that the abortion is because the fetus is female, or disabled, or, or, or is always going to be non-starter precisely for this reason.

      • PrettyAmiable says:

        Here’s where I’m getting lost – we talk about what is justifiable and what isn’t on the basis of some (presumably shared) set of morals. Terminating a pregnancy isn’t “ethically anything” to me, the same way choosing to run or eat or get treatment for some illness or any other thing you do with regards to your own body is not “ethically anything.” If a person terminates because society is all “more penises,” what that person does is not “ethically anything” – but society is super culpable for coercing people to seek medical treatment they may not need or want. I just don’t think anything needs to be justified unless you do think a fetus is a person – and I don’t.

    • 30ish says:

      No, the moral status of the fetus – does it count or not – is not the only relevant aspect in the ethics of abortion. First of all, as Tony pointed out, some people think that if you have sex, you’re implicitly consenting to a pregnancy, and that aspect is obviously absent in the case of rape. While I disagree with this argument, it’s not an inconsistent position to have per se. And it can be helpful to understand this line of thinking so as to be able to argue with its propopnents why having sex doesn’t mean consenting to pregnancy. Also, even in cases where we all think that the being in question “counts” morally – say an adult human being – there are situations where it’s acceptable to take actions that have the consequence of ending their life. For example if they are (even innocently) a threat to YOUR life. (Say, someone dragging you down in the water because they are in danger of drowning). In short, moral status of the fetus can be affirmed & wrongness of an abortion still denied.

  2. GallingGalla says:

    I so want these forced-birthers out of office. I want them to be so discredited that even Fox News won’t give them the time of day.

  3. Echo Zen says:

    Why, yes, my mates and I have always been in favour of more Akins. We need good, honest conservatives who’ll speak openly and candidly about how rapists deserve more rights than rape victims, so civilised voters will know exactly who they’re dealing with.

    • (BFing) Sarah says:

      See, I can’t agree with this. I don’t want people to feel like these are valid beliefs to express. I want them to feel as if, should they express these beliefs, they would be ostracized by the public. I want people to feel morally suspect because they hold these anti-choice beliefs deep in their hearts and I want them to continually question why they hold them. I feel like every time someone spouts off about this, people in the religious right community feel an affirmation of their terrible, forced-birth, religiously motivated bullshit. They feel like, “Hey, Sen. X said that HE thinks baby Jesus hates baby killers, too!!” and it galvanizes them! They WANT to hear their politicians say it out loud and, when they do, it makes them feel that it is valid thing to believe. I don’t want them to think that. I want them to be so ashamed they stay silent and to think that no one else agrees with them so they should sit down and shut up. That’s what I want. Because, in my experience, the least safe places are where people can openly spout off about their racism, sexism, and homophobia and not face any social backlash. I think it gives the ideas credence they should not have when people in prominent positions espouse these ideas openly.

      But then, I don’t need anyone to shine a light on “pro-lifers'” radical views on abortion. I grew up around those ideas and have heard these “no exceptions” arguments since I was too little to have any idea what they meant. I understand why someone who wasn’t raised in that environment would want to know about how the RR REALLY feels…but I don’t want to hear it. I know how they feel and I feel like every time they talk about it, there is someone out there nodding their head in agreement. Every time they say there should be no reason to “kill” a “baby” that gives the RR community faith that someday they will “win” this “war.” I’d kind of prefer if they gave up.

    • Echo Zen says:

      I can see why the mere fact their ideas get any press at all can embolden anti-choice extremists. After all, the reason denialism around global warming is so prevalent in the States is because U.S. networks give equal airtime to denialists, in ways that give a veneer of legitimacy to their intellectually bankrupt views.

      But this is different from the effects of press coverage around pro-rape Republican ideas. In fact, the main difference between pro-rape and pro-global warming denialism is that there’s no moral outrage to the coverage of denialism, no incurring of public shame for such dishonesty, and lack of outrage is what legitimises denialism in U.S. minds.

      Pro-rape views, on the other hand, receive all the public shaming they deserve from media. And such coverage isn’t just to the benefit of middle Americans on the fence over whether rapists who force their penises into women have a right to force babies out of them 9 months later. Before the publicity around the GOP’s rape platform, it was hard to persuade Americans outside red zones that such extremists existed, for the same reason they didn’t believe the same fanatics who want to ban abortion also want to criminalise birth control. Without all that publicity, we would have never been able to leverage those views to start fighting the Tea Party-fueled assault on women’s bodies.

  4. Radiant Sophia says:

    What makes this even worse is that, in a lot of communities, the pro-life movement is also wrapped up in trying to end access to hormone-based birth control.

    • Jamie says:

      Yep. I think a lot more needs to be done to really slam home that what this is all about is God’s Will. No birth control: God wanted you to have that baby! No exceptions for rape or incest: God wants that baby, no matter what! No sex outside of marriage or with another woman: that’s not how God wants it! Like, we all *know* this is what’s really going on*, but I think that subtext needs to be made text at every opportunity.

      I actually agree that “the fetus doesn’t matter” isn’t helpful framing, either. I may be a childfree atheist that not only doesn’t ever want children but also never wants to experience pregnancy, but I am not the majority of the US and my reasons for not wanting to carry a pregnancy to term are not most people’s reasons. A lot of people want to have kids one day. A lot of people are not viscerally disgusted by the idea of being pregnant. Etc. To me, the bottom line is: does bodily autonomy matter or doesn’t it? Fetus, baby, whatever word we use, the point is still: we get to decide whether or not our body is used to sustain a life.

      *obviously the God stuff is being used to justify patriarchal bullshit, like, I think the patriarchal stuff would be there without the religion, but obvs these fundamentalists also want to create a theocracy and that’s a big part of this, which we all know, just covering my bases.

    • Echo Zen says:

      “God’s will” is a total red herring. If these extremists truly believed everyone should just accept whatever happens to their bodies (be it from husbands or rapists), they should also protest against heart medication and cardiac surgery that allows “sinners” to take control of their lives, instead of simply allowing God to destroy their bodies and health. But no, they only want “God’s will” to apply to women, even if a pregnancy threatens their lives. “Better two deaths than one murder!”

      • Jamie says:

        No, that’s true. I just feel like… it’s simultaneously a mask/excuse for patriarchal bullshit, but also genuine theocratic intent, if that makes sense.

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  6. Brennan says:

    I’ll bet you cash money that the Todd Akinses are still out there. We’re not hearing about them because it’s not an election year, so no one cares enough about what Congressman No-Name from Who Cares Where to make a national story out of it. The news networks don’t think it’ll get them ratings, and they just might be right. Call me cynical.

    • Kathy says:

      As someone who lives in a “who cares” state (Akin’s in fact, and I was taught the same BS about “shutting that whole thing down” in a Missouri school), they’re absolutely out there, but unless it becomes impossible to ignore, what goes on in the middle of the country is often ignored. Or it’s positioned as “us against them,” when in fact, there are a lot of progressive “us’s” in conservative parts of the US. (I should point out that I’m still ensconced in my own liberal bubble by living in the city, and by whom I chose to be around.)

      • TomSims says:

        “As someone who lives in a “who cares” state (Akin’s in fact”

        I thought Missouri was the “Show me” state.

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