Todd Akin’s inconsiderate and indefensible comments on “legitimate rape,” pregnancy, and abortion raise a whole host of questions: Should abortion be allowed in instances of rape? How can we talk about the issue of abortion in a more humane and compassionate way? In a political context, what questions are relevant to helping the lives of women and children and men?
With astonishing regularity, media voices that won’t spend more than a minute examining Barack Obama’s support for keeping sex-selection abortion legal, or his opposition to a law guaranteeing equal treatment for children born alive after failed abortions, chime in feverishly when a Republican lawmaker speaks inaccurately about abortion and rape. Representative Todd Akin’s remarks prompted a CNN headline that abortion is now at the “center” of the 2012 campaign. If CNN means a full debate on the issue, so be it, despite this unfortunate entry point. More likely, there will be little real debate.
Rape is a grievous crime, always and everywhere, and the burdens imposed on women so assaulted dissuade many even from reporting the crime. Pregnancy does result from rape. Some women (more than we recognize) are able, through acts of unfathomable grace, to bear children conceived in so terrible a way. These women are heroic. Their children — read anything on the subject by remarkable people such as Ethel Waters and Rebecca Kiessling — are heroic as well, speaking to a world where political advantage, not profound compassion, is cherished first.
If some media figures use this occasion only to skewer one man, another chance will have been lost to move the abortion debate — all of it — to higher ground.
When someone asks about abortion exceptions for rape and incest, we must also consider the feelings of those who were conceived through sexual assault.
Well-meaning statements can hurt. As one UC Berkeley grad student said to her pro-choice peers, “I have a right to be here.” They responded, “We didn’t mean you!” She asked, “Who did you think you meant?”
My mother told this story to a co-worker who agreed and said, “People never think they are talking to an exception — like me.”
We don’t discriminate based on parentage — that’s not equality. You are valuable no matter who your parents are, no matter the circumstances of your conception.
All people are equal. All choices are not.
People used to value a woman based on who her father or husband was. It is similarly medieval to value a child by the actions of her father. That way of thinking is patriarchal and antifeminist, and it should have passed away with the Dark Ages.
Abortion after rape is misdirected anger. It doesn’t punish the perpetrator of the crime or prevent further assaults against other women.
Feminists for Life’s priority is keeping women safe. Incarcerated sexual offenders should not be allowed pornography, barbells, and early release. We need harsh sentences for sexual assault, without possibility of parole.
We need comprehensive support for rape victims who become pregnant. A convicted rapist should never have paternal rights or be able to demand visitation from “his” children while in prison. But if he has the means, he should contribute child support. If a woman is poor and cannot prove the paternity, she could have problems collecting welfare. Small employers could fire her. We need to listen to those who have had children conceived through sexual assault and work for short- and long-term solutions that benefit both children and mothers.
Feminists for Life is a proud supporter of the Violence Against Women Act. In fact, we were the only pro-life group active in the National Task Force on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.
After a lecture at a Midwestern university, a student pulled me aside. She told me that she had been raped by her third cousin when she was 13 years old and had become pregnant. Her parents had helped her have the privacy she wanted during her pregnancy, and then she placed her son with two loving parents.
I asked her why she had made the decision to have the child — when she was only a girl who had lived through what was arguably the worst of circumstances. She said she would never pass to her own unborn child the violence that had been inflicted on her. Now that is the strength of a woman.
— Serrin Foster is executive director of Feminists for Life, which has run an ad on this topic.