[Ed. Note: Trigger warning for rape.]
When fighting the barrage of anti-choice legislation sweeping American legislatures, pro-choice activists have often succeeded in keeping abortion access available only to women in the most horrific of circumstances. Exceptions for rape and incest are typical in anti-abortion legislation. Even the most vocal anti-choice politician has a hard time publicly defending the idea that women should be forced to bear the children of their rapists. However, in recent years, extreme anti-choice lawmakers in the United States have become more emboldened when it comes to taking abortion rights away from all women without exception.
A common theme in arguments against exceptions for rape and incest is the “percentage” argument – or the claim that pregnancies resulting from rape or incest are rare. The specific figure of “less than 1%” is often used. The fact is, however, that the exact number of pregnancies resulting from rape is hard to determine. Some put the number of pregnancies at 5% of all rapes. Still others have pointed out that many rapes go unreported or are covered up, which also complicates the data. Whatever the case, it appears likely from the studies cited that there are at least tens of thousands of pregnancies resulting from rape in the United States every year. That less than one 1% argument doesn’t seem so benign when you actually think about the number of women “less than 1%” encompasses.
The basic idea that this anti-choice stance espouses is that if the number of people who would be negatively affected by a piece of legislation is small enough, then those people can be overlooked. Essentially, extreme anti-choicers are attempting to dismiss the suffering of a minority while in pursuit of their agenda. Regardless of how many women become pregnant as a result of rape, one thing is always true: a single woman is one woman too many.
Other tactics that the opposition uses are also familiar. Emotional manipulation of the audience voting on the issue is also common, as is the bizarre logic that a woman giving birth to a rapist’s child is somehow a victory for her. Anti-choice activist Lila Rose has stated on CNN that “abortion doesn’t ‘unrape’ a woman.” That’s true insofar as nothing ‘unrapes’ someone who has been raped. But access to abortion protects a rape survivor’s dignity and freedom in the face of rape. It protects her right to self-determination. Also worth noting? In the interview above, Rose doesn’t attempt to clarify her position when asked about, and instead changes the subject – a sign, perhaps, that even she knows her statement is indefensible.
Lila Rose isn’t the only one talking about rape. The anti-choice movement has several token figures who were themselves allegedly conceived during acts of rape. One of whom is named Rebecca Kiessling, who claims that abortion exceptions for rape and incest are insulting to her as someone who was conceived out of rape. The problem with her argument – to say nothing of the fact that it’s beyond presumptuous to assume that what was right for one woman is right for all women – is that as a fetus, she would not have been insulted. She wouldn’t have suffered. It was the woman who had been raped who was suffering.
The opposition also has speakers and activists, who themselves have been impregnated by rape but chose not to have an abortion or who state they regret the abortion that they had. While they certainly have a right to feel the way that they do, that should not have a legislative effect on other women who have a right to make different choices under those circumstances. Again, it is irresponsible and prescriptive to suggest that what is right for one woman is magically right for all women. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that all of these activists who argue against rape and incest exceptions also have one thing in common: they are all a part of the same conservative religious movement and their religion is their primary motivator.
Certain GOP lawmakers, (Todd Akin comes to mind) emboldened by the anti-choice movement’s successes on this front, have begun speaking out against abortion exceptions for rape and incest. Appalling, yes – but there’s a silver lining. Predictably (and delightfully) there has been massive public backlash against extreme anti-choice efforts to redefine rape or dismiss victims of rape who seek abortion care. In conclusion, rape is rape. And women who become pregnant as a result of a rape are the only ones who should decide whether abortion is right for them. To suggest anything else is simply inhumane.