Rape exemption harms women’s rights to choose

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.

8 replies
  1. Think Beyond Your Own Nose
    Think Beyond Your Own Nose says:

    Until every single unwanted child at DHS is adopted, all the hypocrits need to get their big hypocritical noses out of the women’s reproductive issues. St. Paul’s Cathedral is full of baby bones from the priests raping and having relationships with the nuns that were smothered to death when born. So the Catholic church who is promoting all this harrassment of women and their reproductive choices are nothing but a bunch if perverted hypocrits.

  2. Brad Naksuthin
    Brad Naksuthin says:

    Permitting abortions in the case of rape or incest knocks the legs from under the argument that an unborn fetus is an “innocent human life”.

    That’s a problem for prolife groups. The majority of those in the pro life movement also agree that rape and incest should be exceptions to the rule. That fundamentally conflicts with their main argument: That a fetus is an innocent human being and aborting the fetus is murder.

    • North University Park
      North University Park says:

      Isn’t it ironic that the same people who support the view that aborting the fetus is murder also support capital punishment?

      Evidently they don’t see the contradiction.

      • Devil's Advocate
        Devil's Advocate says:

        I don’t have strong feelings about either abortion or capital punishment since my political views are not determined by emotion, however I have to disagree with your claim that pro-life views contradict pro-capital punishment views.

        Pro-life is about protecting innocent human life. Capital punishment is about ending guilty human life with the hope that it deters future crime, thereby protecting innocent human life.

        In short, it’s the view that innocent humans deserve to live, and guilty ones deserve to die. There is no contradiction there.

        It would be a contradiction if someone claimed to be pro-life on the basis of protecting any human life, yet also supported capital punishment. But you’ll notice that pro-lifers always qualify their argument by saying they wish to protect “innocent human life.” Innocence is key.

        • North University Park
          North University Park says:

          OK. By that logic Texas, China and Saudi Arabia are the most moralistic governments on the planet. Statistics are not available for North Korea.

          • Devil's Advocate
            Devil's Advocate says:

            I suppose you’re free to draw whatever ridiculous conclusions you wish from my straightforward disproval of your emotion-driven thesis.

      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        I am pro-life and I am against exceptions for rape and incest. I am also opposed to capital punishment. This is one of the things that I love about my Catholic faith- we have a consistent ethic of life. I totally get what Brad and North University Park are saying. As a philosophy major, I understand that when you have inconsistencies in your argument the whole thing falls apart. It especially frustrates me when my fellow pro-lifers have exceptions for rape and incest. I think most of the time it is a political move, for fear of appearing too radical (especially for politicians).

        Science, not my faith, tells me that the unborn are human. It is chilling when individuals and governments start deciding which humans are “persons” with rights and which are not. Historically, it has resulted in slavery and the Holocaust. I pray that we will see the end of abortion and capital punishment in our lifetimes.

  3. Wake up!
    Wake up! says:

    I am a born again Christian and I believe that life begins at conception and that abortion is wrong. Having said that, we can not legislate morality. Abortion needs to be legal so that women are not harmed if they make this choice. The problem is not whether it is legal or not. The problem is that people do not think that these are babies. I know that most Christians to not agree with me, but we can only begin to have a discussion when the other side is not backed into a corner, fighting for something that they want. Give women and unrestricted right to choose and then let’s talk about what really happens after there is no threat.

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