Americans overwhelmingly favor legal abortion access for victims of sexual assault. But their lawmakers are consistently refusing to enact policies in line with that.
According to an analysis conducted by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), more than 70 percent of the new abortion restrictions enacted in the first half of 2013 don’t include any kind of exemption for pregnancies that result from rape. And state lawmakers proposed even more measures to limit rape victims’ abortion access that didn’t make it into law — the NWLC’s report finds that 86 percent of the anti-abortion bills proposed during the same time period didn’t have a rape exception.
U.S. Congress didn’t have a much better record during the first six months of the year. Seventy two percent of the bills proposed on a national level would have restricted abortion access even for rape victims.
The anti-abortion measures that apply to rape victims range from forcing a woman who has become pregnant from sexual assault to carry the pregnancy to term; to requiring her to look at an ultrasound of the fetus and listen to a fetal heartbeat; to banning her from using her own insurance coverage to pay for an abortion; to allowing hospitals to deny her abortion care.
Comments about “legitimate” rapes and pregnancies that “God intended” got several GOP politicians in trouble last year, and cost the party at least two seats in the Senate. But now one of the country’s most extreme anti-abortion groups is encouraging Republican politicians to keep talking about rape. Personhood USA—the group behind efforts to grant fertilized eggs the same rights as adult humans—announced last week that it is launching a new campaign to push lawmakers to strip rape exceptions from federal abortion laws.
Although abortion has long been a fraught issue in American politics, many anti-choice politicians have felt compelled—either out of personal belief or because of public pressure—to allow for narrow exceptions to all-out bans on abortion in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk. Federal policy has, for the most part, aligned with those exceptions. The Hyde Amendment, the legislation that governs much of the federal government’s relationship with abortion providers, forbids federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, and where the life of the mother is endangered. But Personhood USA’s new “Save the 1” campaign wants to eliminate those exceptions, and eventually make all abortions—even for rape victims—illegal.
The GOP war on women: They can’t pass a workable budget, but somehow they still find time to hyper-regulate vagina care.
On the Friday before the long holiday weekend, the Republican governors of Michigan and Virginia snuck in a little New Year’s surprise for the women of their states, quietly signing abortion legislation that helped make 2012 the second most restrictive year for reproductive rights.
In Michigan, Rick Snyder signed a bill passed by the lame-duck Senate — the same one whose anti-union legislating dominated headlines in recent weeks — requiring clinics that perform more than 120 abortions a year to become surgical outpatient facilities, a level of licensing intended to be onerous and put clinics out of business. He also approved a bill that purports to screen for women being coerced into abortions.
Snyder did veto another bill limiting insurance coverage in private employee plans, which would have required purchase of a separate abortion rider. He objected to that on the grounds that rape victims would have to pay out of pocket if they didn’t buy the rider, and because, “As a practical matter, I believe this type of policy is an overreach of government into the private market.” Overreach of government into other realms, of course, is another matter entirely. (According to Michigan resident Emily Magner, one legislator interrupted her to cry, “THIS ISN’T ABOUT WOMEN! THIS IS ABOUT PROTECTING FETUSES!”)
Virginia’s similar, hospital-level restrictions on clinics were somewhat overshadowed by the ultrasound requirements for women seeking abortions. Under threat of forever having the word “transvaginal” attached to his name, Gov. Bob McDonnell tried to split the difference on the ultrasound legislation, but in the final days of the year signed off on the clinic regulations. This followed months of conflict between the Board of Health and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli over whether existing clinics would be grandfathered into the legislation. The governor’s office called the regulations “common-sense”; NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia said in a statement, “After two years of shocking backroom deals and bullying public health servants, Governor Bob McDonnell is clearly proving his disregard of Virginians’ opinions about women’s health care.”
“In the commission’s view, the judge’s remarks reflected outdated, biased and insensitive views about sexual assault victims who do not ‘put up a fight.’ Such comments cannot help but diminish public confidence and trust in the impartiality of the judiciary,” wrote Lawrence J. Simi, the commission’s chairman.
Johnson made the comments in the case of a man who threatened to mutilate the face and genitals of his ex-girlfriend with a heated screwdriver, beat her with a metal baton and made other violent threats before committing rape, forced oral copulation, and other crimes.
Though the woman reported the criminal threats the next day, the woman did not report the rape until 17 days later.
Johnson, a former prosecutor in the Orange County district attorney’s sex crimes unit, said during the man’s 2008 sentencing that he had seen violent cases on that unit in which women’s vaginas were “shredded” by rape.
“I’m not a gynecologist, but I can tell you something: If someone doesn’t want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down. The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard nothing about that in this case,” Johnson said.
The commission found that Johnson’s view that a victim must resist to be a real victim of sexual assault was his opinion, not the law. Since 1980, California law doesn’t require rape victims to prove they resisted or were prevented from resisting because of threats.
A lenient gang-rape verdict has prompted outcry and a debate on France’s inadequate response to rape. The French media’s ambivalence towards rape victims also needs to be examined.
There seems to be a feminist revival in France. The promise made by François Hollande during the presidential campaign that his new government would be 50 per cent female has been kept. The ministry of justice led by Christiane Taubira has been quick to submit a new anti-harassment law, responding to the cancellation of the existing law under Sarkozy’s mandate, which caused all ongoing harassment cases to be dropped. Also, for the first time since 1986, the country has a ministry of women’s rights, run by 35 year-old Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, also spokesperson to the government, who is keen to abolish prostitution. French feminist organisations, like Osez le féminisme! (Dare Feminism!), created in 2009, are going strong - one of OLF founders is even an adviser to Vallaud-Belkacem - and feminist magazine Causette, also three years old, is proving to be serious competition in the realm of women’s magazines.
In such a context, what is now known as the “Créteil verdict” was met with considerable incomprehension and anger. Here’s a quick summary of the events that led to it.
- Nina and Stéphanie*, now in their late twenties, claim that when they were 15 and 16 they were repeatedly raped by a group of boys in the ‘cité’ where they lived (a housing estate in the Parisian suburb of Fontenay-sous-Bois). The facts they narrate are not part of an isolated crime, but of long-term sexual enslavement. They recall being dragged to basements or empty staircases while boys queued up to rape them. This happened, they say, almost everyday for six months in 1999. They pressed charges in 2005.
Why are we surprised by Rep. Todd Akin’s appalling statement distinguishing which rapes are “legitimate”?
Disgusted? Of course. But surprised? We already had clear evidence of what Akin believes from his record. Just last year, he joined Paul Ryan and more than 200 other House Republicans in co-sponsoring legislation that would have narrowed which types of rape victims could benefit from financial assistance to access abortion services. The bill would have cut off victims who were drugged or threatened, some victims of incest, and victims of statutory rape—victims who, it appears, don’t fall into Akin’s definition of “legitimate” rape victims. As for the belief that women don’t need access to abortion when ‘legitimately raped’ because their bodies will prevent a pregnancy, that’s not just some feverish product of Akin’s mind—it’s a widely held belief in radical anti-choice circles across the country.
What’s more surprising is that Akin, along with Mitt Romney and Ryan, think they can run away from their record and fool the women of this country by offering vague apologies and calculated statements in the wake of a controversy like this. Whether a woman has the ability to make her own health care choices—including in the case of rape—is not something that our elected officials should be changing their positions on to suit the political climate. These are fundamental ethical questions that no person of conscience changes position on lightly. Either you firmly believe in protecting women or you don’t.
But the records tell a different story: All three have previously gone on record as supporting outlawing all abortions, including in the case of rape, and have taken actions to match.
* As Massachusetts governor, Romney vetoed a bill to guarantee victims of rape access to emergency contraception in hospital emergency rooms.
* Romney has repeatedly endorsed the 2004 and 2008 Republican Party platforms, and has specifically backed the platform’s Human Life Amendment to ban abortion nationwide, which has no exceptions for rape and incest. A similar measure is set to be included in the 2012 platform, to be adopted next week.
* Romney has said that he now has the same positions that he had when he previously ran for president, and said that he would be ‘delighted’ to sign a bill to outlaw ALL abortions.
* In 2011, Ryan co-sponsored a bill that declared a fertilized egg that hasn’t even resulted in a pregnancy to be the equivalent of a living person, with all of the rights of federal law. That bill criminalized all abortion with no exceptions for rape.
Although we shouldn’t have been surprised by Akin’s awful statement, we must be forewarned that if elected, Romney and Ryan will continue their extreme and dangerous record on women’s health.
I have nothing to add except read the whole thing. And forward it to every voter you know.
Nobody expects the Akin inquisition…
Todd Akin, the Republican candidate for senate in Missouri, said in an interview released this weekend that he did not support abortion for rape victims because:
“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
The idea that rape victims cannot get pregnant has long roots. The legal position that pregnancy disproved a claim of rape appears to have been instituted in the UK sometime in the 13th century. One of the earliest British legal texts, Fleta, has a clause in the first book of the second volume stating that:
“If, however, the woman should have conceived at the time alleged in the appeal, it abates, for without a woman’s consent she could not conceive.”
This was a long-lived legal argument. Samuel Farr’s Elements of Medical Jurisprudence contained the same idea as late as 1814:
“For without an excitation of lust, or the enjoyment of pleasure in the venereal act, no conception can probably take place. So that if an absolute rape were to be perpetrated, it is not likely she would become pregnant.”
This “absolute rape” is not quite the same as Akin’s “legitimate rape”. Akin seems to be suggesting that the body suppresses conception or causes a miscarriage, while the earlier idea of Farr relates specifically to the importance of orgasm. Through the medieval and early modern period it was widely thought, by lay people as well as doctors, that women could only conceive if they had an orgasm.
By Sady Doyle, In These Times
Alas, poor Nikki Haley. All South Carolina’s Republican governor wanted to do was protect the health budget against “special interests” that “distract from… protecting South Carolina’s public health.” And she chose such nasty, selfish special interests to oppose! Hemophiliacs, for example, or people with sickle cell anemia. Those folks sound pretty “special.” And, then, of course, there was the bit that stuck: The rape victims.
Haley’s veto, forbidding $450,000 for the state’s rape crisis centers was overturned on Tuesday, by a vote of 111-0. Which is not surprising, considering the public’s furor. Aside from protests by advocates and survivors within the state, there was a barrage of feminist blog coverage. One crisis center published a letter from a survivor: “I did NOT choose to be raped that night. I was ASLEEP in MY HOME, yet you are cutting a budget for people that did NOTHING WRONG!!!!!”
Well. None of that looks oh so very good, for a politician who, last week, was a favorite to be nominated as Mitt Romney’s VP.
Nor should it, of course. As lots of people have pointed out, demand for crisis centers, and for domestic violence aid, has risen during the recession. And South Carolina’s rate of sexual assault is well above the national average. Haley claimed the services are for “only a small portion of South Carolina’s chronically ill or abused.” But in practice, that number amounts to more than 5,000 survivors in one year, over 25% of whom were children. The cut would have eliminated the only rape crisis center in the city of Charleston.
Creating the Peace Corps by executive order in 1961, President John F. Kennedy proposed the opportunity, and challenge, of global engagement to American citizens. “How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana?” he questioned prospective graduates at the University of Michigan. “Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives travelling around the world?”
Nowadays, many college campuses host intriguing information sessions each year promoting the option of volunteering for the Peace Corps. If selected as a volunteer for the international development organization, it’s an ideal transition into the work force for students post-graduation; while resourcefully applying their studies in a specialized area — whether it be education, health care, business development, environment, youth development, or agriculture — volunteers are drawn to the concept of immediately integrating their eager minds and bodies into a waiting world through travel, cultural exchange and hands-on altruism.
Benefits of the distinctive experience noted, volunteers do realize the possible risks of spending time abroad in a developing nation, where social customs vary distinctively from the United States, living conditions are not lavish but tolerable, and institutional systems such as law enforcement can be lacking. While the Peace Corps strongly asserts that it assures the safe placement of each volunteer, volunteers independently understand the inevitable threats. While the prevention of crimes is difficult to secure, a firm response is the responsibility of the organization, a responsibility the Peace Corps has been accurately accused of disregarding time and time again. More specifically, analyzing the Peace Corps’ track record of negligent, victim-blaming treatment of rape victims in service would sicken any prospective volunteer.
Stephanie Schroeder joined the U.S. Marine Corps not long after 9/11. She was a 21-year-old with an associate’s degree when she reported for boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.
“I felt like it was the right thing to do,” Schroeder recalls.
A year and a half later, the Marines diagnosed her with a personality disorder and deemed her psychologically unfit for the Corps.
Anna Moore enlisted in the Army after 9/11 and planned to make a career of it. Moore was a Patriot missile battery operator in Germany when she was diagnosed with a personality disorder and dismissed from the Army.
Jenny McClendon was serving as a sonar operator on a Navy destroyer when she received her personality disorder diagnosis.
These women joined different branches of the military but they share a common experience:
Each received the psychiatric diagnosis and military discharge after reporting a sexual assault.
“I’m not crazy,” says Schroeder, who is married now, with two daughters. “I am actually relatively normal.”
McClendon says she had a similar reaction.
“I remember thinking this is absurd; this is ridiculous. How could I be emotionally unstable? I’m very clear of mind, especially considering what had happened.” McClendon says. “It was a ludicrous diagnosis.”
A similar pattern
CNN has interviewed women in all branches of the armed forces, including the Coast Guard, who tell stories that follow a similar pattern — a sexual assault, a command dismissive of the allegations and a psychiatric discharge.
Schroeder says a fellow Marine followed her to the bathroom in April 2002. She says he then punched her, ripped off her pants and raped her. When she reported what happened, a non-commissioned officer dismissed the allegation, saying, “‘Don’t come bitching to me because you had sex and changed your mind,’” Schroeder recalls.
Moore says she was alone in her barracks in October 2002 when a non-commissioned officer from another battery tried to rape her. When she filled out forms to report it, she says, her first sergeant, told her: “Forget about it. It never happened,” and tore up the paperwork.
“It felt like a punch in the gut,” Moore says. “I couldn’t trust my chain of command to ever back me up.”
McClendon says she was aboard a Navy destroyer at sea when a superior raped her on the midnight to 2 a.m. watch. After reporting the attack, she was diagnosed with a personality disorder and deemed unfit to serve.
“I was good enough to suit up and show up and serve, but I wasn’t good enough after the fact,” McClendon says.
Despite the Defense Department’s “zero tolerance” policy, there were 3,191 military sexual assaults reported in 2011. Given that most sexual assaults are not reported, the Pentagon estimates the actual number was probably closer to 19,000.
“The number of sexual assaults in the military is unacceptable,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at a news conference in January. “Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line every day to keep America safe. We have a moral duty to keep them safe from those who would attack their dignity and their honor.”