It might seem like the Republican Party got a little less extreme last week when Massachusetts Republicans voted to amend their rigid anti-abortion platform and endorse one that allows abortion in certain cases, such as rape and incest. But instead of taking a step forward, this stance further complicates the issue of abortion in ways that degrade and oppress American women.
The problem with the Massachusetts GOP’s new platform is that if a woman’s right to have an abortion depends on whether or not she was raped, someone has to decide whether or not she was raped. This decision, however, certainly will not be made by the woman herself. To qualify for the exemption, the victim would be required to prove to law enforcement agencies or to health care providers that she was raped. This could lead to potentially inaccurate, bureaucratic assessments of the private and traumatic details of a sexual assault.
Whether or not a woman qualifies for an abortion stands as a subjective matter. The decision could easily fall into the hands of the wrong policy makers, such as those who question whether an incident of sexual assault was “legitimate rape,” in the words of former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, or whether the victim was “asking for it” by consuming alcohol and wearing “inappropriate” clothing. A 2010 “Wake Up To Rape” survey conducted by the Havens, a collection of London-based sexual assault clinics, found that one in 10 people thought a victim’s provocative dancing, flirting or clothing was to blame for a rape.
The arbiters might also unfairly take into account a woman’s past sexual history when deciding if a rape is “legitimate.” In 2006, Bill Napoli, then a Republican state senator in South Dakota, said that though most women got abortions for “convenience,” only a brutally raped young virgin who “planned on saving her virginity until she was married” actually deserved an abortion. In reality, whether or not a woman was a virgin or sexually active has nothing to do with a single incidence of rape.
With all this room for subjectivity, the Massachusetts GOP’s plan to limit abortion access to certain women is nothing but degrading and unfair. The U.S. policy on federal funding for abortions is already discriminatory enough: The Hyde Amendment of 1976 prohibits the use of federal money to terminate a pregnancy unless it resulted from rape or incest or if it threatens the mother’s life. California allows state funds to cover all abortions for low-income women, but many states still require rape victims to be able to prove they were raped to be eligible for an abortion covered by federal funds.
According to The Washington Post, 21 states require the woman to submit a doctor’s note verifying the rape. And 11 states require an official police report, although most rape cases go unreported, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. As a result, only 37 percent of low-income rape victims actually receive a federally funded abortion, and as many as 25 percent end up carrying the pregnancy to full term because they can’t afford the procedure, according to a 2009 review of 38 studies on the impact of Medicaid restrictions on abortion.
The Hyde Amendment is bad enough, but it only puts limits on federal funding for abortions and thus most directly affects only low-income women. But if the Massachusetts Republicans had their way, all American women would have to prove their rapes “legitimate” to even qualify for an abortion under the law.
A woman’s right to choose shouldn’t come down to whether or not she qualifies for a “rape exemption,” a decision that could be repressive and inconsistent if people such as Akin and Napoli are the judges. The Massachusetts GOP might appear to be picking up progressive stances by allowing abortion on some conditions, but the abortion debate should not be framed conditionally. Pro-choice isn’t about securing abortion access for certain women; it’s about believing in and supporting a woman’s autonomy over her own body. If a woman wants to terminate her pregnancy, that choice should be hers.
Adrienne Visani is a freshman majoring in neuroscience.