• Mon, Feb 20 2012

‘Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act’ Would’ve Let My Rapist Sue Me For Getting An Abortion

Let’s just get this out there right now. On January 16th, 2005, I was raped. I was a freshman in college living in a new city. A girl I met at work invited me over to her boyfriend’s house to watch the Colts game, because she knew that I was from Indiana and a football fan. My new friend and her boyfriend cooked chicken and asparagus, which I paired with a glass of white wine. I have to admit that I remember feeling very grown-up at the time. I wasn’t drinking sub-premium beer or McCormick’s Vodka, like most college freshman. I was at a nice little dinner party watching the Colts get beat by Tom Brady.

Before the game could end, I remember feeling nauseous. I know that I was embarrassed and confused as to why I was reacting so strongly to a single glass of wine. This was not the first time that I had consumed alcohol. That’s about all that I remember from that evening. After the confusion, my mind is pretty much blank, though sometimes I have flashbacks that I’ll never share in writing.

I woke up the following morning around 6am naked and freezing cold in the couple’s shower. Having been a virgin before that night, I had very little doubt as to what had happened. I was sore and already sprouting bruises on my hips. Desperately trying not to wake anyone in the house up, I hunted for my clothes and my purse. By 6:15am I was running through a residential suburb, trying to find the number to a cab company and make my way back to my college dorm room.

That’s my story. That’s the story that changed my life in a very real and concrete way. I didn’t tell anyone what happened, partly because one of my rapists was a police officer and I was afraid to confront him. I have to admit, I was also too traumatized to speak to anyone for weeks. I dropped out of college and moved home with my parents. I started drinking and trying to pretend that nothing had ever happened. I went through a very dark and difficult time in my life. This is my story. It’s also the story that cemented my pro-choice beliefs.

Why am I sharing this now, after all this time? I’m talking about my situation now because there’s a new bill that rape survivors everywhere should have something to say about.

The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act was authored by Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican. At face value, the bill is supposed to protect against race and sex-selective abortion. However, Jezebel has pointed out that the bill has a very disturbing passage that would allow the father of the child the opportunity to sue if a woman chooses to have an abortion. The exact language of the bill states:

“The father of an unborn child who is the subject of an abortion performed or attempted in violation of subsection (a), or a maternal grandparent of the unborn child if the pregnant woman is an unemancipated minor, may in a civil action against any person who engaged in the violation, obtain appropriate relief, unless the pregnancy resulted from the plaintiff’s criminal conduct or the plaintiff consented to the abortion.”

So if a woman wants to have an abortion, she needs to have the consent of the father, or else there’s a possibility that she’ll be sued for emotional damages and “loss of companionship.” Go ahead and absorb that for a minute please.

Now, there is language there to protect against a rapist forcing his victim to bear his child. The bill says “unless the pregnancy resulted from the plaintiff’s criminal conduct.” However, what if you’re a woman like me who didn’t choose to report her rape? What if you’re one of millions of victims who don’t report her assault?

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  • Sara

    Great article.

    The whole thing is absurd. Even if the woman wasn’t raped but was impregnated by her physically abusive boyfriend. Reproductive coersion is REAL.

  • Jen

    Thank you for sharing your personal story. This bill and so many like it are unspeakably evil and anyone who tries to deny that their is a war on women being waged needs to start reading what is happening all over this country.

  • i won’t say my name because i’m afriad of backlash from my rapist

    I was raped in college, too, but a boy I went out on a date with. I was a virgin. He didn’t drug me, there was no booze in my system. He locked the door and held me down.

    I knew I couldn’t press charges, since I had bragged that I was going out with him. No one would believe me in court, I knew.

    I went to a rape crisis center and eventually joined a support group. All of the women in that group had one similarity to their story: None of us could prove what happened. We might all have been lying, but why would college women want to spend their evenings at a rape support group meeting?

    Every one of us could have been sued under this bill. 20 years later the thought still makes me sick.

  • AJ

    Thank you for sharing just one circumstance that makes this arguement seem more ridiculous.
    I am saddened that when sharing these stories women often feel it is only appropriate to share if they ‘only had one drink’, ‘were at a friends’, ‘was a virgin’.
    Having this happen to you, then having to defend your drinking, outfit, behaviour, etc is horrific. I can’t imagine then having to debate in a public arena who has rights over my body.

  • Amy

    My inner lawyer in me is screaming one thing – he has to be able to PROVE he was the father of the aborted fetus. Otherwise, any man can see a woman walk out of any abortion clinic and try to sue her. There has to be proof. And believe me – there are very few rapists with the balls to stand up in court and admit that he fathered a child. Because when the question of how the pregnancy came to be comes up – he’ll be shaking in his little space boots.

    Also – he has to be able to prove you had an abortion. And given that medical records are typically sealed and a judge wouldn’t usually order them opened for something like this, the likelihood of a man winning a case like this is zero to none.

    • Jen

      The issue is that the bill would allow men (and parents of underage girls) to sue to PREVENT the woman from getting an abortion and would make it actionable against the doctor if (s)he performed an abortion while the suit was going through the legal system. Even if the partners or parents don’t win their case they could still succeed in tying a woman and her doctor’s hands until it is too late. It also seems to me that it would put a lot of pressure on abortion doctors to verify that their is no legal action pending against every patient, something that would cost time and money in a situation where both are at a premium.

      While the initial article writer might not have been in danger of this occuring–though who knows, she did not report her rape and the girlfriend could serve as a witness in his favor since it sounds like she was complicit in the rape in the first place. However, since 77% of all rape is committed by someone who the victim knows it’s not that much of a long shot to imagine a boyfriend or husband who has committed rape than forcing their victim to continue a pregnancy under this statute.

    • http://twitter.com/MsWendyKH Wendy Kraus-Heitmann

      This is actually how women got the right to abortion enshrined in Canada by the Supreme Court. Woman leaves crazy abusive partner, she decides to get abortion, he sues for an injunction until the court can decide if he has the right to stop her, she says forget this and goes to Vermont and gets it done anyway, her lawyer tells the court, the court says “well even if it is no longer relevant here we’re going to rule anyway for future reference. And no he has no rights.” This law could be exactly what the supporters do not want.

  • S

    I am honestly frightened and severely pissed off by the assault on women’s reproductive rights in this country right now.

  • Pingback: My Miscarriage Made Me Anti-Abortion, But Still Pro-Choice

  • Steph

    I agree completely with all the other comments. To the author of this post and the commentor ‘i won’t say my name because i’m afriad of backlash from my rapist’, I’m so sorry you both had to go through that.

    • Steph

      *commenter. WTF autocorrect?

  • Salvar

    I know the current situation is not fair, but you’re pushing it too far in the other direction. Men don’t bear children, but society has shown itself willing to hold them responsible for the children they help create. It’s not about “forcing” a woman to bear a child against her will, any more than this bill is about preventing a woman from “forcing” a man to support a child he doesn’t want. It’s give and take, just like everything else in civilization. If a man and a woman disagree on whether to terminate a pregnancy, at least one of them is going to end up extremely put-out with the resolution (and *both* of them had a part in the responsibility to have avoided the issue with contraception). It’s not fair to put that right of choice 100% on the woman’s side for the sake of the first 9 months… or for the sake of historical lack of women’s choice, either.

    • Jen

      Salvar: What pregnancy can and does do to women’s bodies is not something to sneeze at. Pregnancy can be a life threatening experience and putting the decision to keep or terminate a pregnancy in the hands of anyone other than the person who’s body is being effected is wrong–plain and simple. Your SO couldn’t (and shouldn’t) force you to have a vasectomy to prevent her from becoming pregnant even if she wished to because YOUR body is yours. I would suggest that sexual partners should discuss this before they have sex–every man I’ve ever been with has been well aware of my feelings regarding an unplanned pregnancy.

      Forcing a woman to keep a pregnancy is NOT just about “the first nine months” either. There are more than enough studies out there to prove that women bear the main burden of childcare even in situations where a pregnancy has been planned. Childcare, especially in the beginning, take a HUGE emotional toll–both because of hormones and because babies are non-stop need machines–with roughly 1/4 of women suffering some kind of PPD (and around the same number of men too!). Triggers for PPD include “social stress, poor relationship [with baby's father], low social status and single parenthood”. All of those would be major factors effecting a woman (and her childs’s) well being in the sort of forced childbirth you are advocating.
      There’s also ample proof that unplanned pregnancies negatively effect women socially and economically in significantly larger numbers than men. The idea that this issue magically stops effecting women after nine months is patently false.

    • http://twitter.com/MsWendyKH Wendy Kraus-Heitmann

      The man gets a choice when he uses a condom or not, and has responsibility toward a baby, not toward a pregnancy. Tho the anti-choice movement would like us to believe otherwise, pregnancy is a woman’s issue and involves her health and medical care solely. Once the child is born is when a man becomes a father. And no I am not saying men cannot grieve pregnancy loss don’t be daft. I am speaking for legal purposes.

  • Another Survivor

    I was also raped, two and a half years ago, by someone I considered my best friend. Both his parents are cops in NYC so I didn’t even bother trying to press charges. I was drunk, and I knew it would be another case of “She was asking for it”. The sad part is when I did speak out to a couple of supposed “friends” about the ordeal, they ran back and told him, and the entire town I was living in. I’m too ashamed at this point to go back.

    I found out later that his parents had pulled strings to get him out of a court marshal from the Navy for the same thing.

    It frightens me that I could have been further victimized by a law like this. I constantly fight the desire to commit suicide as it is. If I wasn’t a mother I probably would have already. This would probably put me over the edge.

    • Patti

      “Another Survivor”, I am so very sorry about your horrible experience. I can understand your not wanting to press charges because both his parents are cops and yes, the drinking would have been used against you–altho it is TOTALLY UNFAIR!!! And it’s unbelievable that the “friends” in whom you confided betrayed you so blithely–I’d love to get my hands on them AND on the creature who did this to you!!!

      Please remember that NONE OF THIS WAS IN ANY WAY YOUR FAULT!!! You are an innocent victim and my heart goes out to you. No one should have to suffer what you’ve gone thru. And while I truly do sympathize, let me assure you that YOU have no reason to feel ashamed, because YOU did nothing wrong–that guy is clearly not just a rapist but a serial rapist and he deserves to be locked up forever!! And the “friends” who betrayed you–who cares what THEY think? They’ve shown their true colors and THEY are the ones who should be ashamed to look you in the face!!

      Sweetie, PLEASE get counseling. It scares me to hear you talking about suicide. You’ve been deeply traumatized and betrayed and you need someone you can trust to help you work thru all this. I’m not saying it’s easy, or that it will happen overnight, but you CAN overcome this, I promise! I have never been a rape victim myself, but at least THREE of my close friends have, and thankfully it didn’t destroy their lives. They are happy now altho it did take time, so PLEASE don’t give up!!! You’re a mom, your children desperately need you, so please please seek help–I promise it is out there if you only look for it!! Wishing you well and sending you lots of hugs!!!! God bless!!!

    • Chinchilla

      You know what I find so odd? They do use the “Well she was drunk” thing against victims, but in most states it’s ABSOLUTELY considered rape even under consent if the person was drunk.

      I’m feeling like I should save up most of my money so that one day I can get out of this backwards country..

  • Mara

    I question why those supporting this bill feel men have the right to FURTHER ruin a woman’s life? Abortion is not a choice most women make lightly. Often it is because the are absolutely aware that Motherhood is a HARDSHIP. I know. I’m a rape survivor. I’m also a single mother. Every single moment of motherhood is stressful in the begining. Women carry the emotional trauma of a failed relationship as well as an abortion. MEN DO NOT.

    Additionally, women’s bodies sustain the entirirty of the dangers resulting in pregnancy. Absolutely there are laws “forcing” men to pay child support. but guess what? Often child Support can be court ordered to be no more than $50/month. So for every deadbeat bastard we “force” to help raise his child, 1 MILLION are not held to any standards of equal responsibility.

    Living in Arizona sickens me. The courts, in my experience, castigate the woman for being single mothers and damn her should she chose otherwise. I’m not a second class citizen. I’m brave. I had an abortion relating to an act of forced bodily harm. And I carry the hurt, depression, and anger of that act with me every day of my life. I’m strong. I’m a single Mom. A single mom who has NO HELP. I have no one to watch my son for 30 minutes so I can eat, shower, study, or hold down a job. I’m not a loser. and it saddens me to have my state and my country constantly strip me of freedoms I deem necessary to help me raise a productive member of the next generation. Someone else was given a free pass to duck out on his responsibilities. I sustained a pregnancy in a homeless shelter. I gave birth alone. I am raising my son with all of the love and compassion my hard-knock body has left to give.

    and I am a woman who is sick and tired of being made to feel as though I don’t matter. As though my rights to my body are wrong. And as though being a Mother is stigma and a horribly dirty secret. My name is Mara. And you know what? I don’t need to be told that I, as a woman, am not intelligent enough to make my own decisions. What I need are for these politicians to stop forcing women to bear the burden of new life and to care help me care for the child I did not abort. Stop cutting funding to programs essential to the well being of myself and my son. Stop imposing your narrow minded views on my household. I may not be wealthy. I may not live up to your version of an appropriate woman, but I’m in no way a lesser version of a meaninful memeber of society.

    • quinn

      Mara, you sound like an awesome mother, and a wonderful example of a woman. I AM sorry that you are having to go through what you’re living through now, but you don’t sound like you need anybody to FEEL sorry for you. I lost my best friend a couple of years ago. She was a single mother of a young boy who got remarried and was, at the time, 7 months pregnant with her 2nd child. She was abducted from a gas station and raped by several guys and dropped back off. She felt like she couldn’t face going through the rape interrogations, and a month after she had her 2nd baby she commited suicide. I feel like if more systems were in place for people to report rapes without the harsh accusations of “what caused the rape” (i.e. what the victim did to bring it on) then people would be more willing to come forward even if they were in questionable situations leading up to it, although my friend was only filling up her tank while wearing maternity clothes; either way it SHOULD NOT matter. She was only 25, and she was one of the most beautiful people I had ever known. I know many, many more irreplaceable men and women are being lost to this everyday. I don’t know you, but I look up to you after hearing your story.

  • Dion

    Ok, I read this article, and ;
    1> while I feel bad for every person who was raped, you need to stand up, and report it.
    2> The fact that “it’s a personal decision by the woman to have an abortion or carry the child, and should be the woman’s right alone” is pure bs. Following THAT logic, then, no man should EVER have to pay child support. If he has 0 input as to whether to keep the child, why should he pay for it?
    Now don’t get me wrong, I feel, that in every case of rape, the rapist should have 0 rights. BUT, if you choose NOT to report it, then you only have yourself to blame, and you are furthering the whole “blame the victim” mentality. If you chose to report it, you would at least be seen as making a stand, and trying to uphold your rights to live your life, free of coercion and assault.

    • Frances

      It’s obvious that you’ve never been raped, or else you wouldn’t be so judgmental. And please don’t respond back saying that you aren’t judgmental because it’s obvious that you are.

      Obviously it’s always the courageous thing to do when you report something like this, but that isn’t always feasible and it’s not something that every women is prepared to do. Reporting a rape can ruin your life. Hell, even speaking about rape to your friends can ruin your life, I should know, that’s what happened to me when I came out about my assault.

      As for your opinion about abortion, you are entitled to it but I disagree wholeheartedly. That’s all I will say about that.

    • AmboGirl

      Dion,
      Seriously? I was raped when I was 17. It took me almost a year to report it. I was ashamed and swore up and down that I did something to cause it. Guess what happened when I told the cops? They asked if I did something to cause it; if I was wearing revealing clothes, was I drinking, was I flirting? It’s so hard to report it. There are days where I wish I never did just because of how I was treated by the cops and the detectives. It’s not as easy as you think it is.

    • http://twitter.com/MsWendyKH Wendy Kraus-Heitmann

      A man should pay child support because it is a living breathing human being that is alive and needs care. If he did not want to procreate he can use a condom or choose not to have sex with someone. Pregnancy and a child are not the same thing. Woman gets control over her body and medical care during the state of pregnancy. The man is responsible for where every one of his sperm go.

    • Ally

      Okay first off, most men get off scott free from paying child support by threatening to make the mother’s life hard if she does go for child support. With that said, I do agree that he should be able to terminate his rights, but once he does that, he can never get them back.

      Secod, I can tell that you’ve never been raped and reported a rape. I was abused by a family member from 12-13 years old. I was a virgin. I wore long dresses. I wore long sleeved shirts. I didn’t drink. I didn’t even go out of the house, and yet I was raped.

      I had a bad feeling that nothing good would come from reporting, but I finally broke down and told a teacher, who is a mandatory reporter. After that, I was on my father’s side of the family’s bad side. I was the black sheep. I was taken out of a church that was the only support system I had. My life was hell until I moved out of my dad and stepmom’s house completely at 19. All because the person was on my stepmom’s side of the family. I talked to an investigator about it, but my family lied about me, made it seem like I asked him for it, and he only got 1 counseling session by a biased dr and he went free. I never wish I would have. The thought that he would have been able to sue, or that my dad and stepmom would have been able to stop me from getting an abortion at 12-13, if I had gotten pregnant is absolutely scary. I know my mom would have signed off, as she’s always been on my side about this, but somehow she’s the bad parent. So yes, I did stand up for myself, and things became a hell of a lot worse. Only a miniscule amount of rapists actually spend time in jail.

  • Andrew Patton

    Understand though, had the ruling gone the other way, she could have been thrown in jail for contempt of court.