Why “except in cases of rape or incest” is a terrible idea

I’ve always been pro-choice.  I went to the March for Women’s Lives in 2004.  And it was awesome being around so many people who were really invested in reproductive justice.  It was also awesome to be with so many people who chanting, “Hey-hey, ho-ho, George Bush has go to go” and really believing he wouldn’t win again – or wait, he didn’t win the first time, did he?  But then he did the second time… sigh…But I digress.  My point is that I’ve always thought women should have the right to abortions no matter what.  I’ve never thought they should only have the right when they’ve experienced extreme violence, such as rape and/or incest.  But.  But even in 2004, I’d soften a little towards a conservative candidate if I heard them say that they’d keep abortion legal for cases of rape or incest.  I thought, ‘well, okay, they kind of get it’ and I wouldn’t be as horrified if this person were to be elected.

These days, though, I would feel very horrified.  Here’s why…

As I’m in the DV (Domestic Violence) field, my mind first goes to partner abuse when thinking of abortion.  Rape is rampant in abusive relationships, here’s just one example of a study on this issue.  And I’d bet that sexual assault in abusive relationships occurs far more often than survivors report it does.  Many survivors of sexual assault don’t recognize it as rape, especially when the violence is committed by a date or partner.  And who would want to admit that their partner is raping them?  I mean, for real!!  Furthermore, if you think about abusive relationships, one partner has power and control over the other partner – so how much room is there really for consent in such a relationship?  And still, most survivors of domestic violence would not initially say their partner raped them – often b/c they don’t want to admit to this horror or they don’t realize they were raped.

Abusive adolescent relationships are not immune to sexual violence either, unfortunately.  Here’s a sad but accurate article about that.  People think teen pregnancy and/or unplanned pregnancies are about people “getting caught up in a moment of passion.”  But I think that it is much more likely that these pregnancies are the result of manipulation, coercion or outright force.  And because manipulation and coercion are involved, all too often the survivor doesn’t recognize it for what it is.

So if we eliminate abortion except in cases of rape and/or incest, what does that mean for the many survivors who didn’t realize they were raped?  Furthermore, considering how much stigma there is around rape and how absolutely traumatizing it is, it would be a horrible burden for survivors to be expected to come forward and say this awful thing had happened to them – especially in the initial months following it.

Along those lines, what would be expected of victims if abortions were only allowed in cases of rape and incest?  If we ever found ourselves in such a society, I highly doubt that society would allow a woman to get an abortion based on her word alone.  Likely, there would need to be proof – and the burden of this proof would fall on the victim and would likely re-traumatize her and in the end, someone may not believe her and deny her access.

Considering all this, how likely is it that anyone would get an abortion if it were only legal in cases of rape or incest?  I’d say it’d be extremely unlikely.

So now when I hear a candidate say they’re pro-life except in cases of rape and incest I think they’re either uninformed OR they’re totally informed and know that making abortion legal only for these cases means abortion would hardly ever happen.  And in the latter situation, that candidate likely knows they get to hide their patriarchal views behind a false facade of empathy.  Barf.

So, in sum, what is the best approach to abortion?  Keeping it legal and accessible to every woman.  No matter what.

March for Women's Lives, 2004

March for Women’s Lives, 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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