Abortion politics in the US election

2012-08-24 10:12

New York - As I wrote earlier in the week, Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin stepped in it big time – in a really deep stinky pile of it – when he decided to tell everyone that doctors had told him that women who are raped have some kind of internal defence mechanism against getting pregnant by means of their rapist.

As we all know, there are more scientific claims on the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti and the ANC winning back the City of Cape Town, but it wasn't just that which became apparent when Akin dropped the world's worst sound bite of 2012.
Due to Akin, rape and abortion became major topics in the US national news discourse this week, and all of a sudden people remembered the Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan co-sponsored a bill along with Akin (and many others) last year – in fact it was the third bill the 112th congress ever signed – which declared that no federal funds or public money of any description could be used to pay for abortions.

This bill, however, exempted women who were victims of rape or incest, as well as if the mother’s health was in danger. Pretty standard stuff, right?

'Forcible' rape

No, not at all. The first draft of this bill, HR 3 (which is actually called the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act") exempted some people from the limits of the bill thus in section 309:
'SEC. 309. Treatment of abortions related to rape, incest, or preserving the life of the mother

"The limitations established in sections 301, 302, 303, and 304 shall not apply to an abortion —

"(1) if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest; or

"(2) in the case where the pregnant female suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the pregnant female in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.
 (Note: the version of the bill which was eventually passed by the House of Representatives no longer contains this language about "forcible rape" or an age limit on incest, neither did the bill become law.)
Final draft of bill

Justifiable criticism

Section 2 is pretty standard – if the mother's life is in danger she is exempt from this set of laws. But section one indicates that you're only exempt from this abortion restriction if someone was raped "forcibly". What about if said someone was raped unforcibly?

Objectively, a foetus conceived through rape is a foetus conceived through rape no matter how "forcible" the rape was. By creating a "forcible rape" category, lawmakers were arguably creating a rape category that was less significant.

Victims of rape should logically be entitled to the same termination of pregnancy rights, regardless of whether a rapist was "forcible". Criticism of this draft of the bill was justifiable in that it sought to define whether there should be degrees of rights of pregnancy termination dependent on level of trauma involved in the rape that caused it.
Section 1 also only permits exemption to this set of laws if a woman was impregnated incestuously as a minor – ie if she is under the age of 18.

Bear in mind exceptions made by pro-life advocates don't usually have an age limit. Becoming pregnant via a relative contains its own high risk factors for a foetus, or baby after birth, regardless of the age of the mother.

Perhaps the authors of this bill sought the age limit as when a woman can make her own decision as to who she wishes to have sex with, but this doesn't mitigate the higher risk pregnancy.

Easy punching bag

This is the piece of legislation that vice-presidential Paul Ryan co-sponsored. So did Todd Akin. And the rot didn't sit solely in Republican hands.

Eleven Democrats co-sponsored the bill (to be fair, that's pretty minimal compared to the 216 Republicans who did), including Joe Donnelly, who is running for the US Senate as his party's candidate in Indiana.

In spite of the eleven Democrats, you can expect to see tons and tons of campaign material launched by Democrats on this.

It is an easy punching bag, particularly against Todd Akin (who is a Senate candidate), Paul Ryan and Republicans in general (not so against Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, however, who has been vocal about his support for abortions for women who have been raped, become pregnant incestuously or whose life is endangered by pregnancy).
Paul Ryan is already being hit about the head with early drafts of HR 3, and, quite frankly, deservedly so. It is a bad piece of legislation to attach your name to.

There are 216 others in the House of Representatives who could face the same treatment before election day in November. And I expect the American public will be hearing about it ad nauseum.


  • jacqui.c.baumgardt - 2012-08-26 04:43

    surely all rape is forcible????

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