The Problem With The Anti-Abortion Movement’s ‘Rape Exception’

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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)

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