Who likes broken records? I hope you do because I might sound like one here. I feel like we’ve had this conversation before, but House Representative Roscoe Bartlett from Maryland has added some new aspects to the misinformation surrounding pregnancy, rape, and abortion. That means we get to go through this mess again. Don’t blame me, blame clueless politicians who spout bogus “facts.”
First, we had Representative Todd Akin‘s “legitimate rape” comment that set the whole world on fire. To be fair, his numerous non-apologies and backtracking didn’t slow the burn at all. Then, there was Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith who compared getting pregnant out of wedlock to getting pregnant from rape. Just to be clear, the two things are not similar at all. And now, we have another politician trying to explain that there’s no need to worry about a rape exception clause because women almost never get pregnant from rape. Rep. Bartlett says it’s much more important for us to be concerned about sex-selective abortions.
While speaking at a town hall meeting this weekend, Rep. Bartlett had this to say about abortion,
“There are very few pregnancies as a result of rape, fortunately, and incest—compared to the usual abortion, what is the percentage of abortions for rape? It is tiny. It is a tiny, tiny percentage. … Most abortions, most abortions are for what purpose? They just don’t want to have a baby! The second reason for abortion is you’d like a boy and it’s a girl, or vice versa…”
Now, I’m going to try to do a little math here, so let’s all strap in. An estimated 32,000 pregnancies occur from rape each year. According to the Center for American Progress, approximately 9100 of those pregnancies are aborted. And thanks to the CDC, we know that 827,609 abortions were performed in 2007. As a percentage of that total, 9100 is about 1.1% of all abortions.
In that way, Congressman Bartlett is correct. It’s a small percentage of the overall abortions that occur in this country. But I think it’s important to note that to those 9100 rape victims who make that choice, it’s not small. Nothing about it is tiny or negligible or not worth mentioning. It is a difficult and emotional decision that deserves respect from those of us who cannot imagine what that woman is going through.
Now, on to the second part of Mr. Bartlett’s statement. The part that contains both a gross over-exaggeration and under-exaggeration all at once.
First, he gives the biggest simplification of all time to a really personal and thoughtful choice. “They just don’t want to have a baby!” Yes, Mr. Bartlett, some women decide not to carry a pregnancy to term. I highly doubt that the decision is as flippant as you present it. Every woman has her own circumstance, whether they don’t feel financially or emotionally prepared to raise a child, whether there are extenuating circumstances, whether their health might not allow them to successfully carry a child. Acting like women don’t give this decision the thought and contemplation it deserves is one way that anti-abortion activists attempt to enforce more rules and regulations around the procedure, like waiting periods and transvaginal ultrasounds. Women are smart and thoughtful, they are capable of making these decisions on their own.
Then, Congressman Bartlett makes the ridiculous claim that sex-selective abortion is the second most common reason for abortion. He makes it seem like it’s some type of growing trend in the country. Let’s get ready for more math. A woman cannot find out the sex of her child until approximately 20 weeks of gestation. According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 1.5% of abortions occur after 20 weeks of gestation. So given the statistics, the number of abortions that occur after 20 weeks and the number of abortions that occur due to rape are relatively close.
Even more, while the numbers are hard to ascertain, studies suggest that the majority of late-term abortions occur because of health concerns for either the mother or the baby. So the majority of abortions in that 1.5% are definitely not concerned with sex, they’re concerned with fetal abnormalities or the risk of the mother’s life. That would make the possibility of sex-selective abortion in the US even more rare that abortion from rape.
This may seem like a small statement to quibble over, but when politicians discuss rape, abortion, or even pregnancy for that matter, it is important to hold them accountable for the accuracy of their statements. Congresspeople like Roscoe Bartlett want to legislate our reproductive rights. They want to deny us access to abortion. They want to make our pregnancies legal matters. It is important to scrutinize and correct their statements. Those misguided beliefs could lead to misguided laws.
The basic fact that Representative Bartlett is missing is that abortion is always a personal and important decision. You can’t marginalize some aspects and inflate other imaginary problems to muddle the conversation.