Today, the House will pass a bill that would ban pretty much all abortions after 20 weeks from fertilization. Known as the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” the bill has been spearheaded (until recently) by Arizona Republican Trent Franks. This, despite the fact that a nearly identical law was just ruled unconstitutional in his home state. Shockingly, and I would argue to the detriment of progressives, the media focus of the bill is not the banning of abortions. It’s whether or not there’s an exception for victims of rape or incest. Frank’s first draft made no exceptions. Democrats in Congress amended it, providing rape and incest exceptions, and then Republicans re-amended it, saying the exception only applies so long as the crime is reported to the police.
There’s a lot to say about both this bill and the Republican agenda underlying it. Actually, there’s too much to say for one article, so I’m going to skip over a lot of things. First, I’ll skip over how badly the bill’s name misrepresents how abortions work. (We discovered anesthesia a long, long time ago, and even in rare late-term abortions, the fetus feels no pain at all.) I’ll also skip the bit about there being no reasonable argument for the 20 week cutoff. I’ll only make brief mention of the duplicitous nature of the anti-choice agenda, and the ultimate goal of forcing more people into poverty. (But please, take the time to read my exposition on the topic.) I’ll briefly mention that the bill is a waste of your taxpayer dollars, since it is already D.O.A. in the Senate, and the White House has promised a veto. Finally, I’ll skip all the appropriate hand-waving and gesticulating in the direction of Roe v. Wade and the 4th Amendment. We know this routine already.
Instead of all that, I want to focus on the effects of the exceptions for rape and incest. By doing so, I hope I’ll be able to convince you that the very inclusion of exceptions proves that the ban itself is a terrible idea. To begin with, the Republican amendment requiring a police report seems to imply that a rape is only “legitimate” if there are charges filed. (Hello, Akin? Akin? Anyone?) There’s also a bizarre party line suggesting that by mandating reporting, we’ll be taking perpetrators off the street, thus protecting women and reducing rape. But is that really how it would work?
Lots of rapes go unreported. The most straightforward reason for this is that lots of times, women believe it’s in their best interests not to report. A lot of times, it is in their best interests not to report. It’s a shame, to be sure, but it’s reality, and putting women in the position of having to ruin their lives by reporting a rape or ruin their lives by having an unwanted baby isn’t going to change the culture that makes reporting rape disadvantageous to so many women. Put simply, we don’t punish women for being in a no-win situation. That’s evil.
Republicans also seem to believe that lots of women lie about rapes, and forced reporting would weed out all these muckraking harpies. The difficulty with this idea, however, is that the criminal justice system takes time, and it’s absurd to imagine that the guilt or innocence of the accused could be determined by the time of the abortion. So, if women really are predisposed to lie about rape, why are we encouraging them to do it?
It’s very difficult to convict a woman of false accusation of rape. It’s a lot more difficult than finding an accused rapist “not guilty.” In the latter case, it’s just a matter of having enough evidence to prove a rape occurred and the accused did it. Without that evidence, he doesn’t get convicted, but that does not mean the woman then gets accused, much less convicted, of false accusation. That’s very, very rare. So, by mandating a claim of rape, reported to the police, Republicans are ultimately encouraging women to lie, which will both clog up the justice system and unjustly incarcerate some number of innocent men. This certainly isn’t going to reduce the alleged incidence of false rape charges. And we haven’t even addressed what would be done to women who were convicted of false accusation. Would they get charged with murder as well, since theirs was not a legal abortion? They’d have to be punished, of course, so there would be some number of women behind bars for having an abortion. Are we okay with that?
But let’s look at it more directly. If a woman says she was raped, do we want her to have a baby in any case? Either she’s telling the truth, and the baby would be an everyday reminder of that trauma, or she’s lying, and… if she wants the abortion bad enough to lie about rape, she’d probably be a pretty bad parent. Right? If she’s willing to send a man to prison to get her abortion, isn’t she pretty much… evil? Who’s getting protected by forcing her to be a parent? Do we just love the foster system that much, that we want to overload it even more?
So that’s the end of that absurd Republican provision. Mandated rape reporting should not be a provision for exceptions to an abortion ban. So now, let’s imagine a ban on abortion that provides an exception for rape, with no mandated reporting. How would a typical day at the abortion clinic look?
Receptionist: Hello, Ma’am, what’ll it be today?
Patient: Abortion, please.
Receptionist: Oh, I’m sorry. There’s a ban on abortions in your case, unless you’ve been raped, but you don’t have to prove that you were raped, or report it to the police.
Patient: Oh… well… um… yep. I was raped. Sure enough. Definitely, this is a pregnancy from rape.
Receptionist: Okay, then. Down the hall, first door on your right. Gosh, this is the fiftieth rape just this morning. It’s amazing how much rape has gone up since that ban on abortion!
It’s howling mad, of course. Banning abortion, but then allowing a provision for rape would make rape statistics from abortion absolutely meaningless. That’s very bad. It’s especially bad for women, since rape statistics are very important in developing new policies to prevent and punish rapists. Tampering with this data would be criminal.
This brings us to the absurdity of the ban itself. We’ve talked about exceptions, and walked through the disastrous results of requiring “proof” for granting them. Without requiring proof, we put women in the odd position of having to lie to get an abortion — without actually implicating anyone else. We apparently can’t have an “evidence-only” ban, and a ban without an evidence requirement would basically be the same as legal abortion. So, can’t we just take out all the extraneous clutter and say that if a woman wants an abortion badly enough to get one, she should probably get it?
These exceptions to an abortion ban pretty much prove that banning abortion is a bad idea. A ban without exceptions just isn’t going to pass, and the public wouldn’t stand for it, even if it did. But exceptions cause more problems than they solve. They prove that Republicans aren’t interested in making society better, or improving the lives of women. They’re certainly not doing this to protect children. They’re trying to control women, pure and simple. House Democrats did a smart thing by including the exceptions, even though the measure was doomed in the first place. By forcing the Republicans to extend themselves to their own logical conclusion, they’ve given the public a chance to reason through this and see through the charade.