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Forced Birthers Try To Narrow Definition Of Rape

January 28, 2011
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The House GOP is attempting to define rape only as forcible rape.  I would say that there are innumerable problems with this, except that I know I could number them all if I had that kind of patience.  I don’t, so I’ll number a few:

(1) this rolls back 40 years of legal reform.  In the dark ages, rape excluded spouses and required, in many states, “utmost resistance.”  State laws have moved on.  Now, rape or sexual assault is defined, in varying degrees in different states, but usually includes intercourse with minors, sometimes includes penetration of a woman unconscious or very incapacitated, mostly includes penetration of a person who has clearly refused but who is unable or unwilling to resist, and is often gender-neutral (because it’s not okay to rape men, and it does happen).  The House GOP wants to ignore the evolution of the law and impose the term “forcible rape,”  even though the research shows that in the real world, serial rapists use the tactics that keep them from getting caught, which means using alcohol intoxication and isolation and avoiding overt force. 

(2) it’s drafted by incompetents.  They want the standard to be “forcible rape” but don’t define it.  It’s not a defined term anywhere in federal law that I know of, and whether it is in state law varies widely.  They’re inventing a standard that doesn’t have a meaning, and refusing to supply one.  I suspect the refusal to supply a meaning is deliberate, as the more clear about how restrictive they mean to be, the more people will object.  However, that’s the way failed lawyers who run for office and are convinced of their brilliance make a mess of the law.

(3) it’s a regressive change in service of a regressive change.  The purpose of this is to keep as many women as possible from being able to access Medicaid funds for abortions.  The whole antichoice movement is shot through with the ideology that women are either evil sluts or bubble-headed victims led astray, and this drives their wierd obsession with eliminating reasonable carve-outs and exceptions.  The trilogy of rape, incest and life of the woman is a carve-out to the Hyde Amendment which bars federal funding for abortions.  But in the mythology of antichoicers, all exceptions are used by evil sluts and weak victims to cover any possible situation, so anything becomes rape if it will justify the abortion.  Their reaction is to reduce all exceptions to pinholes, denying them to many of the people they were precisely meant for and making them maddeningly arbitrary in their application — or eliminating them altogether, a goal they advocate but know they can’t achieve because it horrifies anyone not fully on board with the forced-birth movement.

I don’t see anyone proposing bills to make it tougher for the daughters of the privileged to access this routine medical procedure.  Some on their side would like to but know that anything that threatens the privilege of the privileged gets much more effective opposition.  Some on their side are more concerned that the burden of unwanted pregnancies fall on some groups of people than others.  But whether by design or pragmatism, they’re not going to prevent affluent white women from accessing medical care to terminate unwanted pregnancies, and they’re not really going to try.  They’re trying to make poor women with few resources who have unwanted pregnancies carry to term.

Anti-choice ideology, including especially those who oppose hormonal contraception using scientifically specious grounds, and rape apologism work hand in hand.  They are both anti-autonomy movements.  They’re against people’s control of their own bodies, and specifically against certain people’s control of their bodies (women, genderqueer and trans people, anyone who doesn’t conform to their worldview …).  The forced birthers say they want fewer abortions, but they balk at all policies that are likely to produce that actual result through greater autonomy.  The rape apologists say they’re against rape, but they’re for the culture that allows it and they’re for defining it only as one relatively less common type, and they’re against any policies that would make the sexual violation of people’s bodily integrity easier to prevent or punish.  They’re movements made for each other.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Rose permalink
    January 28, 2011 7:35 pm

    Thomas, thank you for posting this. I saw the article this morning and my first thought was to send it on to this blog. (I’ve been a reader/lurker since YMY came out.)

    I do want to point out that the piece of legislation in question actually is an attack on privileged women’s access to abortion. Yes, it codifies Hyde, but it also contains the Stupak abortion ban from health care reform, which affects every individual in the United States who would like to purchase health insurance that covers abortion. (Yes, I know that affluent women don’t need insurance to afford the cost — I’m just trying to highlight the fact that it does go far beyond low-income communities. So I guess here I’m making a distinction between affluent and privileged, where privileged are those who don’t rely on Medicaid and affluent are those who can afford to pay $500 out-of-pocket for an abortion.)

    You are exactly right that restrictions on middle- and higher-income folks gets much more effective opposition than restrictions on poor women’s access, which is why they’re trying to sell this as a public funding bill. If they called this what it is, it would have much less of a chance of passing both chambers. As it is, they’re effectively [both in the sense of “basically” and “successfully”] using opposition to public funding as a cover for legislation that would make abortion much more difficult to access for everyone.

  2. 01234567890 permalink
    January 28, 2011 11:57 pm

    They’re inventing a standard that doesn’t have a meaning, and refusing to supply one. I suspect the refusal to supply a meaning is deliberate, as the more clear about how restrictive they mean to be, the more people will object.

    I think they want to make the law as vague as they possibly can in order to make it as easy as possible for Medicaid to refuse to cover abortion in cases of rape.

    The House GOP wants to ignore the evolution of the law and impose the term “forcible rape,” even though the research shows that in the real world, serial rapists use the tactics that keep them from getting caught, which means using alcohol intoxication and isolation and avoiding overt force.

    The GOP is trying to make as difficult as they can for women who are raped to receive funding. This really doesn’t say anything about the GOP’s attitude towards rape in general, only their attitude towards Medicare-funded abortions in cases of rape.

    I don’t see anyone proposing bills to make it tougher for the daughters of the privileged to access this routine medical procedure. Some on their side would like to but know that anything that threatens the privilege of the privileged gets much more effective opposition.

    Any abortion restriction is going to impact poor women more that rich women. What restriction(s) did you have in mind that would not make it more difficult than it already is for rich women to get abortions, that the GOP would not support? I don’t think that it would really even be possible to restrict abortion in this way, so I guess I don’t see your point.

  3. LoriA permalink
    January 30, 2011 6:52 pm

    I’ve long wondered how one proves she’s been raped (or a victim of incest, which isn’t a ‘third thing’ but a specific type of rape) in order to procure an abortion. Does she have to take a polygraph? Undergo a psych eval? Does she have to file charges? Wait until the crime is actually prosecuted and the rapist convicted? All of these things take time, especially the last one, which can take months to a year or more. Practically, then, a ‘rape exception’ might make it harder for women to procure abortions and therefore have to carry the fetus to term, but more likely it’ll just result in a later abortion, which is exactly what *no one* wants.

    • February 1, 2011 2:48 pm

      Here is a question I pose on my blog. What rape does not involve some sort of force?

    • February 1, 2011 2:55 pm

      Don’t know where my post went in response to Lori but….

      I have often asked my anti-choice friends who support rape exceptions how one would be written to make it enforceable? Do you ask the woman to prove it in court? Court cases could last beyond 9 months (if anything ever goes to trial). Do you just believe the woman? In that case, why wouldn’t a woman seeking an abortion claim that some unknown stranger assaulted her and forced himself on her so she could get round the loop hole?

      Most wind up speechless when posed with that question. Because there is no way to write an anti-choice law that excludes pregnancies caused by a rape. I have actually had a few tell me that they have never thought about it that way before and who then have agreed with me that the only way to effectively reduce abortions is to do so without banning it but through education to help make sure that people know the best ways to protect themselves from pregnancy in the first place.

      The rape exception for funding brings up those very same questions. How does a raped woman seek funding for her abortion from the federal government? How does she prove to the feds that her pregnancy was caused by a rape in order for her to qualify for funding? It just makes no sense.

  4. LoriA permalink
    January 30, 2011 6:58 pm

    Not to mention that anyone who supports a ban on abortion except in cases of rape(/ incest) or where the mother’s health or life is endangered reveals hirself as being concerned not about the human status of the fetus– all fetuses should have the same value and therefore the same rights, regardless of how they came about or what effects their existence might have, no?– but about policing and punishing women’s sexual behavior. As much as they scare me, I actually have far more respect for the ‘no exceptions!’ folks for precisely this reason.

    • February 1, 2011 2:57 pm

      While the no exceptions argument might be more consistent, I find those who support exceptions for rape to be much more reasonable to debate and much more likely to listen to arguments on the enforceability of rape exceptions and why one could never work.

  5. January 31, 2011 9:53 am

    Seems to me that in addition to just being one more attempt to chip away at abortion rights slowly–taking them all at once would not give nearly as many electoral opportunities to manipulate anti-choice people who are not served by corporatist policies–this is an attempt to make anti-choice people who are generally on the side of feminism when it comes to rape start to view anti-rape activists as their enemy. I actually think anti-rape activists are the most dangerous edge of the feminist movement, from the perspective of people who like patriarchy. Hardly anyone thinks rape is good. And if you start from knowing that rape is bad and then look for how to stop rape based on the research available, the answer is basically “feminism.”

    Oh, and LoriA– Even those who supposedly assign personhood to a fetus often have contradictory beliefs about the acceptability of self-defense when dealing with a dangerous person who is not in control of their actions (and is therefore guiltless). And about ectopic pregnancy, treating uterine cancer in pregnant women, etc. In fact, what forced birth proponents are attempting to do is give a fetus more personhood than a born person, and if you question them enough, this will come out.

  6. February 1, 2011 2:50 pm

    Here is a question I pose on my blog… what rape does not involve force?

    I mean seriously. There may be different levels of force per each individual case. But the very nature of rape is force. For Boehner and the anti-choicers to try and say that some rapes are not forced is just an example of actual rape apologia.

    • Mac permalink
      June 5, 2014 11:37 pm

      By “force” is not meant the small degree of physical effort involved in sexual intercourse. It means brutality, chemical intoxication (alcohol/drugs), real threat of force (like holding a knife to her throat but not actually cutting her), physically overpowering a weaker person.

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