Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A rape is a rape is a rape


"Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologize," he says in the ad, which was first posted by Politico. "As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault. I pray for them."

"The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy," he continues. "The truth is, rape has many victims. The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness."

First, let's define the term "rape." When pro-lifers speak of rape pregnancies, we should commonly use the phrase "forcible rape" or "assault rape," for that specifies what we're talking about. Rape can also be statutory. Depending upon your state law, statutory rape can be consensual, but we're not addressing that here.

 Efforts to outlaw abortion and legislatively narrow the definition of rape to only the most violent assaults go hand in hand, as abortion opponents believe rape exceptions to abortion bans will be exploited by women to obtain abortions in an environment in which it is otherwise outlawed. Rape, therefore, needs to be defined differently -- to be defined more narrowly and to be defined, most critically, as something that does not result in pregnancy.
Akin says his sin was not his concept, but to use "the wrong words in the wrong way."  He wants to maintain his position, and his position is that women want to use rape as an excuse for an abortion.  Now you can follow that off into the weeds about access to abortion, but that's playing Akin's game.  The issue here isn't really access to abortion.  The issue here is the definition of "rape."

Akin, under the smooth guidance of Mike Huckabee, sought to change his original word choice from "legitimate" to "forcible."  Unless rape is "forcible," it's not real rape, because the issue is about consent.  Note that second quote:  "Depending upon your state law, statutory rape can be consensual...."  That's the kind of thinking that led the US Conference of Bishops, and others, to freak out about how federal money was going to get spent in the discussions surrounding HB 3 in 2010.  It's completely false.  Statutory rape is rape by definition, not by evidence of consent or the lack thereof.  The issue is, an always has been, and always will be:  consent.

It's the definition of "consent" that is under challenge now.  Akin's ideas about biology are not going to be widely accepted; even Rush Limbaugh found them pathetic.  But what might find a wider audience is the argument that "rape is rape," except that leads to the next question:  what do we mean by "rape"? ( And if we mean consent, don't we mean rape as an act of violence (as it was explained to me in high school?).  That's an especially pointed question when Paul Ryan is starting to echo President Obama.  That rape was an "act of violence" was the preferred definition 40 years ago, to distinguish rape from simple sexual desire.  The idea then was a woman could provoke rape by how she dressed or acted, and so to defeat that canard, rape was an act of violence, not an action of sexual desire.  That definition worked too well, though, and so “date rape” became the preferred term, because rape didn't always involve the stranger in the bushes who beats you brutally before raping you. Too soon “date rape” sounded like a kinder, gentler sexual assault, and we were back to the woman’s behavior again:  did she “lead him on” by what she said, did, wore?  Is it really rape if you know the guy?

Of course it is, if there is no consent.  But where rape is still associated with force, where rape is still only considered "legitimate" if it is "forcible," we are going to be facing this question anew.  The canard that will not die is not the idea that rape cannot lead to pregnancy (and so pregnancy negates rape); it is the idea that rape is violence, or it isn't rape at all.  It is the idea that rape is a gateway to access social resources, money, or even society's sympathies.

The canard that will not die is that women use rape the same way they use sex:  to get what they want.  This isn't an assault on abortion access.  It's an assault on human beings.  While you do have to fight ideas with ideas, let me reiterate this blog's informal motto and, before I do, remind us all:  Eyes on the prize.

Ideas don't matter. Things don't matter. People matter.


AKIN: You know, Dr. Willke has just released a statement and part of his letter, I think he just stated it very clearly. He said, of course Akin never used the word legitimate to refer to the rapist, but to false claims like those made in Roe v. Wade and I think that simplifies it….. There isn’t any legitimate rapist…. [I was] making the point that there were people who use false claims, like those that basically created Roe v. Wade.

Res ipsa loquitor.  At least, I think it does.


  1. Sherri11:28 AM

    Maybe I'm not understanding you. You seem to be sayig that restricting abortion access is not an assault on human beings. I think that's a perspective that is very convenient for someone who can never be pregnant to have.

    I've been pregnant, and happy to be so. It took a lot of time, money, and effort for me to get pregnant, and I was grateful to be pregnant and deliver a healthy baby. But I would never wish anyone to be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy. That is about people. That's about identifying with real women, feeling their needs and wants and imperfections, rather than a fetus, a hypothetical person who can be innocent and perfect because only the woman carrying it has to deal with the reality.

    Limiting the definition of rape and restricting abortion access are both about controlling women.

  2. Ideas don't matter. Things don't matter. People matter.

    Yes. And Akin and Ryan dragged in the discussion of the meaning of rape in an attempt to limit further the already limited access to abortion, which is about people, aka women. The rape discussion is a red herring, and we fall into the trap.

    And I don't mean to imply that the discussion about rape doesn't need to continue, but the ultimate goal of Akin and his ilk is to make all abortions illegal, and this we must keep in mind, for they will not cease in their efforts.

  3. The rape discussion is a red herring, and we fall into the trap.

    I listened to a panel of women from around the world on the BBC today (World Have Your Say) who disagree with you. The entire discussion, based on Akin's remark, was about the subject of "legitimate rape," not abortion.

    Not that they were right and you are wrong, but there are clearly two responses to the original comment, and I think both are legitimate. Indeed, I think one is more legitimate than the other.

    But to get there: do I think restrictions on rape are "assault"? I really don't know what to say, except that Roe v. Wade provided restrictions on rape which still fundamentally control. Planned Parenthood v. Casey abandoned the strict trimester restrictions of Roe, but until then the State was allowed to control access to abortion in the second trimester, and ban it outright in the third. After Casey, the state simply cannot impose an "undue burden" on the right to privacy which protects access to abortions. The harshest attempt to restrict that access now is based on federal funding for abortions. I don't think any state has passed a law restricting abortions in the first trimester to only cases of rape or incest, because if they did I don't think they'd pass Supreme Court review (or the court would have used it to overrule Roe and Casey).

    The abortion issue here is really the red herring, since it's actually a money issue, i.e., will the Feds pay for it? I agree with Charles Pierce, that if that's going to be the standard, I want to withhold my tax money that goes to Antonin Scalia's salary.

    Really, the "limited to rape & incest" exception is a thought experiment outside the question of trying to control federal funding to Planned Parenthood. It has no value in the real world because it is not now, and under the state of the current law cannot be, a standard for the only permissible abortions at all. Not unless Roe & Casey are going to be overruled; and, interestingly, no legislature has tried that yet.

  4. Rmj, you disagree with me, and the panel of women on the BBC disagree with me, so perhaps it's a good thing that what I see as a red herring came under discussion. One thing we learned is that Paul Ryan personally opposes abortion in the case of rape, is rape.

    I presume that to say the "Sanctity of Life" bill which Ryan co-sponsored is about limiting abortion would also be be a red herring, because the bill does not mention abortion but simply declares the personhood of a fetus from the moment of conception. Is it ever right to seek out motives behind proposed legislation?

    No state legislature has tried to use rape and incest as the only possible reasons to permit abortion, but in Louisiana the authorities are giving abortion clinics a hard time, and the legislature has passed laws that make women seeking abortions jump through through an ever-increasing number of hoops. I'd say the opponents of abortion are making progress.