By Lisa Regula Meyer
It’s a very odd couple of weeks in the news, enough to make me wonder if my long time dream of time travel had come true in a “Monkey’s Paw” sort of way, and I’ve awoken in 1950-something. Talk of “legitimate rape,” “honest rape,” “forcible rape,” forms of conception, and eleven-year -old kids that deserve to have been raped. In case you’ve been living under a rock, all of this is framed in the discourse on abortion, and specifically personhood rights for the unborn (well, except the remark about the eleven-year-old; that’s just cruel and asinine). Now, I wasn’t there in the bad old days of the coat hanger and before Roe vs. Wade, but I’d wager the rhetoric was worse, although I’m not sure by how much.
I can respect a pro-life stance, even if I myself am pro-choice; I have plenty of friends that are pro-life for various reasons and to varying degrees, but we mostly get along. I say “mostly” because saying that any group got along all the time would be a lie now wouldn’t it? Even when we don’t necessarily get along, we’re civil and respectful, and while no one typically persuades anyone else, in the end we’re still friends. I think that’s how most of us are in our day-to-day lives, with people we know, or at least I like to think that’s the case. You’d never know it from the news, though, and I may be delusional in thinking the way I do.
Thing is, while all the talk from the likes of Akin, Ryan, Paul, and Passidomo make it sound like these are just misspoken words or verbal accidents, there’s a certain logic to these unhinged statements. What they effectively do is blame the victim and dehumanize the woman involved, and by extension, all women. As a meme that’s been going around Facebook states, a woman deserves to be raped because she’s scantily clad just as much as a man deserves to be kicked in the balls when he doesn’t put on a cup in the morning. Victim blaming is the easiest of these insidious tactics to dispel because all it requires is a simple respect for others.
The other lines are a bit trickier, in part because they rely on that first step above: respecting others. But once you do that, you have to think about dichotomies. See, any time you categorize something, you imply that not everything fits in that category. For there to be “honest rape,” that implies that some rapes are “dishonest,” or a case of “buyer’s remorse”, and nothing could be further from the truth. Rape is never OK, there is nothing that a person can do that makes them worthy of being raped. To say that they are worthy of rape is to say that they aren’t human, plain and simple.
Finally, using lies and fallacies like women’s bodies “shutting that whole thing down” and pregnancies not resulting from rapes is blatant propaganda and dishonesty, on top of victim-shaming and cruelty. More importantly, it is absolutely unacceptable for those who should be held as role models to be spreading this misinformation and mischaracterization, and even worse when this is done by a member of the House Science Committee. There is a place for opinion, if you could even call these opinions, but it is not situated somewhere north of facts, at least not in the real world, which these people have arguably left behind at this point.
On a closing note, what all of these comments have in common is a reflection of the fact that there are plenty of people in the US and the world who still consider women to be second class citizens, and not worthy of the same respect as men and not able to be trusted with decisions regarding their own body. In fact, talking about rape as another form of conception ignores the woman entirely, and focuses simply on “rape->baby” and in thirty-one states, the woman continues to be ignored by laws that allow fathers via rape to have the same rights and access to their progeny as fathers via IVF, intercourse, or adoption (yes, you read that right, rapists can sue for visitation, too). The same goes with personhood amendments which instill legal status on all embryos, including those created via IVF. Many prominent pro-life activists are opposed to personhood statutes, because those statutes go too far in limiting rights, and would effectively bar IVF due to concerns on how to deal with all of the extra embryos created in the process and the need to figure out what to do with them (and a desire to avoid additional Octo-mom situations).
Personally, I will always support a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, the same as I respect a man’s right to bodily autonomy in the circumcision debate. If we can’t control our own bodies, what do we have control over? And let’s face it, this discussion is not about protecting the unborn, or caring for children- if it were, we wouldn’t have such a high national child poverty rate. The discussion on different types of rape, abortion (and in part, surrogacy) is about control. Women are not chattel, and any politician- or human, for that matter- would do well to remember that all 7 billion plus humans currently alive are here because of a woman (or two).