This weekend, a Missouri Congressman and Senate candidate, Todd Akin, infuriated people everywhere when he claimed that victims of "legitimate rape" do not become pregnant. He was explaining his belief that abortion should be outlawed even in cases of rape. Apparently, Akin believes that the female body has ways to "shut that whole thing down," if the woman involved didn't really want to have sex. Nevermind that according to a 1996 study by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, approximately 32,101 pregnancies occur due to rape every year in this country.
The response to Akin's disgusting remarks has been fast. After the initial wave of outrage, the Congressman released a statement saying that he "misspoke" but continuing to defend his extreme views on abortion. Akin clarified, "I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action."
However, even in anti-abortion circles, outlawing abortion in the cases of rape or incest is not generally accepted. Most people agree that victims of these acts should be able to make their own decisions when it comes to their reproductive health. In response to Akin's quote, the Republican Presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan released a statement saying, “Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.” [tagbox tag="rape"]
This rape exception for abortion is one that gets thrown around a lot. In general, people realize that a rape victim should not be made to carry her attacker's child. I suppose those who qualify their opposition to abortion with these special circumstances feel like they're doing a favor for the poor, broken survivors.
But as a rape victim, I have a hard time understanding why the rape exception would be seen as a thoughtful gesture to survivors. The rape exception is not enough. And if we're being honest, I think it's a pretty hollow and thoughtless qualifier to throw in, more to protect the anti-abortion crusader from answering difficult questions than to actually help women who might become pregnant after rape.
For a minute, let's think about how a rape exception would actually play out, should conservatives get their way and outlaw abortion in all other circumstances. How exactly are women who have been raped going to access the abortion they might desire? The most under-reported crime in the country would have to be proven, and quickly - considering the time constraints, for a woman to actually qualify for her abortion. Women would have to rely on a system where approximately 3% of rapists actually spend a day in jail.
(Photo: To Hold Nothing)
Our culture does not make it easy to report sexual assault and rape. The crime itself is deeply personal, surrounded by misinformation, and subject to more victim-blaming than any other form of abuse or violence. I was raped seven years ago, and though I've finally begun to open up about my experience, I have never spoken to the police about my rape. That's something that I deeply regret, but it is a reality of my situation.
When I think back to the weeks after my rape, I was unable to function as a human being. I didn't leave my college dorm room for days on end. My voicemail actually ran out of space for messages. I spent the entire next year in a downward spiral, coping with the aftermath of a truly horrible experience. According to the rape exception, if a pregnancy would've resulted from my rape, I would've had to report and prove that I was a rape victim to be able to have an abortion. At a time when my emotional state didn't allow for looking men in the eyes, I would have been asked to explain my entire situation to a group of people that would get to decide whether or not I had to give birth to a child that I wasn't prepared to care for.
The rape exception is not enough. In fact, the very existence of this qualifier shows why abortion rights for all women are so important. Even if you don't agree with abortion on a personal level, you have no way of knowing or experiencing what's going on in another woman's life. You have no idea how she got pregnant or why she might need an abortion, and she should be given the dignity to decide what's right for her. If you excuse abortion in cases of rape, you acknowledge that there are circumstances in which a woman has every right to end a pregnancy. Who are you to define those circumstances?
If you wouldn't force a rape victim to carry a baby, why would you force anyone else? And who do you think should determine which excuses are "legitimate"?
Congressman Akin's statement was completely false. And every time I hear such ignorance, a sad part of me acknowledges that those beliefs are part of the reason that I didn't report my rape. It makes me thankful that I didn't have to come face-to-face with such stupidity at my most vulnerable time. But we should remember that the question of rape and abortion is an important one. We should remember that even with those exceptions, no one ever explains how they would work. No one admits that they would make victims prove their abuse to a society that constantly blames them for their own assault before an abortion would be allowed.
[UPDATE: After this article was published, Mitt Romney spoke with the National Review Online and issued a much more forceful denunciation of Congressman Akin's statement. The Presidential hopeful said, "Congressman’s Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong. Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive. I have an entirely different view. What he said is entirely without merit and he should correct it.”]