Can We Separate the Issues of Abortion and Rape?
And Who Suffers When We Do?
Many pro-choice activists and journalists argue that rape should not determine a woman’s right to abortion. In a May 17, 2019 Medium article, “Stop Bringing Up Rape to Discuss Abortion,” Stark Raving says:
“A woman’s rights should not depend on her sexual decisions. Whether she was raped, or chose to have sex and had a damn good time, is irrelevant to the fact that each individual should have a choice about who sets up camp in their uterus. To suggest otherwise is to cast judgement over women’s choices, to suggest that a woman who consensually had sex and fell pregnant deserves to be punished for her choice. The question of pregnancies through rape is irrelevant to the question of abortion.”
I recognize that many so-called pro-life activists waver on the question of rape and incest (which are far too often combined). Exemptions for these situations don’t address the fundamental issue of a woman’s right to choose.
I question, though, that the issue of rape is irrelevant to that of abortion. I don’t presume to have the answer. This article explores the possibility that we shouldn’t be so quick to separate these issues.
The Issues That Go Deeper Than the Right to Choice
Now unfolding on the national stage is a growing assault on women as sexual beings and mothers that attacks far more than the right to abortion. It threatens women’s rights to thrive or even survive. The attack is fraught with ignorance of women’s biology and a contempt for their existence that denies even the pretense of equality.
The attacks on rape victims highlight this ignorance and contempt. We hear nonsense from the men who make laws to govern women’s bodies about “consensual rape” and “legitimate rape.” We are told that a pregnancy caused by rape is “God’s will.”
The particularly heartless attacks on children who bear children as the result of rape and often incest shows a level of hatred of females that should alarm every person, female or male, who cares about real human rights. It should convince the most cynical that the fanatics who dominate too many legislatures will not stop with abolishing abortion rights.
Childhood Pregnancy Kills
Some have pointed out that the Supreme Court ruled that minors can’t receive the death penalty. This means that the eleven-year-old girl who manages to get an abortion will not be executed.
However, pregnancy and childbirth potentially impose death sentences on young girls.
An article in Live Science outlined the dangers in stark terms. Lewis Wall, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, says: “No 10-year-old anywhere in the world should be having a baby. . . Any 10-year-old who is pregnant has already been abused significantly by somebody.” To give birth to a child as the result of that violation only deepens the emotional trauma for a child who should not have to be raising a child.
Physical dangers also abound. Wall notes that pregnancy puts a major strain on the cardiovascular system. According to Sherry Thomas, an ob/gyn at Mission Community Hospital in Panorama City, CA, the fetus leaches calcium and other nutrients from a child who needs them for her own physical growth.
One of the greatest dangers is the process of birth. Wall and Thomas agree that because the pelvis doesn’t fully widen until the late teens, young girls may not be able to push the baby through the birth canal. These girls are candidates for death or permanent bodily damage.
When Rapists Have Greater Rights Than Their Victims
Another violation of women’s reproductive and maternal rate is that in seven states rapists can sue for custody and visitation rights. Do not be surprised if more states enact such legislation.
“My daughter has spent zero time with him, but at any time in her life, he can claim to seek a relationship and time with her. He is within his rights to fully communicate with me under the guise of co-parenting and visitation.
I do not have the luxury of cutting contact with my rapist due to his parental rights by the very state of Florida. What the legal system has done has ruined my integrity, ruined my dignity, ruined my personhood rights.”
She says he doesn’t seek custody but power and control. One act of terrorism is apparently not enough. Rapists can use the threat of shared custody and visitation to continue to torment their victims.
“When I spend hours negotiating child custody with him,” she says, “I feel chained. I can scrub the disgust off my body but it becomes a different type of personal hell to repeatedly face your rapist. This is torture in the most sinister form.”
The direct contact which is torture for a grown woman is deeply traumatic for a raped and impregnated child. A convicted sex offender who raped a Michigan girl when she was only 12 years old was granted joint custody of his victim’s 8-year-old son.
Tiffany, who asked that her last name not be used, said, “I was kidnapped for two days. I didn’t know if I was ever going to go home. He threatened to kill me and my best friend if we told anyone.”
She said that “horrible things” and “flashbacks” come to mind when she hears his name.
The order of custody has since been legally rescinded, but Tiffany is not the only young woman who has had to suffer such physical, emotional, and legal abuse.
The Big Picture
As long as the same right-wingers who fight against safe, legal abortion pass and enforce laws that punish the victims of the crime of rape, I am hesitant to separate these issues. If, as I suspect, those who are determined to rob women of all rights are pushing the boundaries ever further, we need to meet, expose, and defeat them wherever they make a stand in the area of reproductive and maternal rights.
This includes the rights of those who could not or chose not to abort fetuses that resulted from rape. We cannot allow their rapists to have more rights than they do.
Increasingly, women at the forefront of the abortion rights movement believe that Roe v. Wade will come under direct attack and that the Supreme Court may overturn this landmark legislation. If that happens, the Justice who may make it possible is Brett Kavanaugh, accused of attempted rape of then-fifteen-year-old Christine Blasey Ford.
It doesn’t get any more connected than that.
Finally, at this time, we must not be divided. Too often, the movement for women’s rights has been divided by racism, class privilege, and the exclusion of lesbians. In a country increasingly beset by division, instead of being weakened by division, we need to be strengthened by unity.
In the fight for women’s sovereignty over their bodies, we need to say, “No woman — or girl — left behind.”