Advice Violence

Words Matter: Cheers to the FBI for Recognizing How Much

Heather Corinna

The FBI finally changed its defintion of rape, and while that may seem small, it has the capacity to change things for the better by quite a lot for a majority of rape victims and survivors.

Published in partnership with Scarleteen.

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains candid discussion of rape and sexual violence.

I experienced two different sexual assaults when I wasn’t yet in my teens within just one year of one another. The second time I was assaulted, my experience ticked all of the boxes there currently are in our culture for what is so often — now, anyway, easily considered a “real” or “bonafide” sexual assault, or what Whoopi Goldberg, to my great disappointment, would call “rape-rape.”

I was a girl, and one with body parts universally recognized as “girl parts.” My attackers were guys. Even worse when it comes to the rape cliché all too often (misre)presented as universal truth, I was a white girl raped by guys of color. I did not know any of the perpetrators: they were all strangers. It was violent. It was forceful. I said no, I yelled, I tried to run, and I fought, but I lost. I was conscious until I was knocked unconscious. I hadn’t been drinking or doing recreational drugs, nor had I ever even tried either. I sustained physical injuries. I wasn’t a sex worker. I didn’t have mental illness or a developmental disability. I wasn’t dressed “provocatively,” (despite a police officer’s notion that any length shorts were provocative), I wasn’t wearing lipstick or high heels, I wasn’t on a date or at a bar, and beyond some very rudimentary, fully-clothed juvenile fumbling, I hadn’t been sexually active.

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The first time around was different: I was much more confused about what had happened. I knew the person who assaulted me: he was the “sweet old man” who cut our hair. I froze in fear and shock: I wasn’t able to move or utter a sound, including “no,” despite feeling no loudly in my skin. I was wearing, that day, an outfit I thought was a “pretty” outfit. My attacker told me I liked what he was doing, and he said “nice” things to me, rather than calling me names. He told me how pretty I was. I didn’t get any injuries. It wasn’t violent. I threw up several times when I walked home: I knew it wasn’t right, but I didn’t know it was wrong, or why. Nor did I know it was sexual violence. I didn’t even try to tell anyone.

But shortly after the second assault, it was clear what had happened, both times. I still didn’t have and wasn’t provided any sound words (nor help) for it at the time, but I knew that first incident was just as wrong as the second; knew they were the same at their core. Once I tried again to tell someone about the second assault a couple years later, I got the information and words I needed to better start to understand I had been raped, and all that could mean. I then realized what should have been obvious: I was raped that first time too, not just the second.

If that second rape had been more like most rapes, and if I had been anyone but someone with a vagina, given so much of the messaging out there then, and, though to a lesser degree, still out there now, I might not have figured out what happened to me until many, many years had passed, something which would have set me back immeasurably, and to my great detriment, in my healing process. I meet survivors like that, any of us who work in support for survivors do: it is so, so much harder for them to heal than it could be, than it should be.

This should all be so far past obvious to anyone by now. Even though some folks still lazily, callously, dangerously and sometimes even maliciously cling to and broadcast myths about sexual violence — plenty will likely do so in reaction to the terminology change I’m going to talk about — this should all be clear by now, especially from federal justice agencies who are supposed to support victims, not render them invisible.

There’s a lot that’s changed for the better around sexual violence and victim advocacy since I was assaulted in the early 80s, and plenty that’s changed since I started actively working with survivors over the last ten years. The mere fact that what happened with my second assault would now so readily be classified as assault, and most likely treated so differently than it was by police and everyone else around me speaks volumes. But one thing that really hasn’t changed, especially in lowest-common-denominator attitudes, attitudes which were very unfortunately still reflected in the longstanding definition of rape from the FBI, is the notion that only assaults like the second one I experienced were or are “real” rape; that only victims like I was then are “real” victims. That’s a strange and hurtful notion for many reasons, but one of the biggest is that that kind of assault is the LEAST common way rape occurs, not the most common. And that’s not late-breaking news: data and information has been gathered which makes that clear for decades: millions of survivors have bravely told their stories over the years which illustrates this clearly. And yet.

At the very least, our justice departments should be clear and inclusive about what rape and other kinds of sexual abuse are, and at the very least, those definitions should include and privilege the most common ways and contexts per how rape occurs, not just the least common to the exclusion of all else.

And now, we’ve finally got some of that important, needed clarity. The FBI finally dumped a definition of rape which had over eight decades of dust on it, and adopted a new, far sounder definition. To say I’m elated and deeply grateful is a pretty serious understatement.

Before you look at the new definition, take a look at the old one: The previous definition was “The carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” “Carnal knowledge” is a term that expressly and exclusively means penis-in-vagina intercourse.

Who didn’t that include? Often, people assaulted by those known to them, even closest to them, which accounts for the majority of sexual assaults of all people and most commonly doesn’t involve physical force, but coercion and other kinds of manipulation. Men and boys. Women who were not assigned female sex at birth. Women sexually assaulted by other women. People whose assaults did not involve vaginal intercourse. People who were assaulted sexually in such a way that did not involve a penis. People who were not conscious or fully conscious when assaulted. People who did not give their consent, or whose nonconsent was ignored. All of these victims and survivors and more were not included in the previous definition. That old definition didn’t include the majority of people who have been raped.

As someone who educates, counsels and supports a wide range of rape survivors every week, I all too often hear from survivors who can’t even get started healing because they feel they have “no right” to call their assault what it was, mostly either because they fear they’ll invalidate the experiences of “real” survivors and victims, because they do not want to hold someone else responsible for something they are not responsible for, and/or because one or both of those concerns dovetail all too nicely with victim-blaming, rape-enabling mentalities the world is plastered with. I’ll sometimes pull out my own experiences and say that I believe them, that I don’t feel invalidated because we did not have the same experiences with rape, and as someone who has experienced rape in different ways, I know all too well rape is rape is rape. But I shouldn’t have to do that, and no one should need me to, especially when I’m saying what I am to counter not just what they hear from uneducated people, but from justice agencies, who know all of this better than anyone.

Now it seems I just might need to have discussions like that a lot less, or have them only when backing up what our federal justice bureau says themselves.

Here’s the new definition:

The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.

As the FBI explains (bolding mine):

The revised definition includes any gender of victim or perpetrator, and includes instances in which the victim is incapable of giving consent because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity, including due to the influence of drugs or alcohol or because of age. The ability of the victim to give consent must be determined in accordance with state statute. Physical resistance from the victim is not required to demonstrate lack of consent.

“The revised definition of rape sends an important message to the broad range of rape victims that they are supported and to perpetrators that they will be held accountable,” said Justice Department Director of the Office on Violence Against Women Susan B. Carbon. “We are grateful for the dedicated work of all those involved in making and implementing the changes that reflect more accurately the devastating crime of rape.”

The new definition is more inclusive, better reflects state criminal codes and focuses on the various forms of sexual penetration understood to be rape.

“These long overdue updates to the definition of rape will help ensure justice for those whose lives have been devastated by sexual violence and reflect the Department of Justice’s commitment to standing with rape victims,” Attorney General Holder said. “This new, more inclusive definition will provide us with a more accurate understanding of the scope and volume of these crimes.”

Police departments submit data on reported crimes and arrests to the UCR. The UCR data are reported nationally and used to measure and understand crime trends. In addition, the UCR program will also collect data based on the historical definition of rape, enabling law enforcement to track consistent trend data until the statistical differences between the old and new definitions are more fully understood. The revised definition of rape is within FBI’s UCR Summary Reporting System Program. The new definition is supported by leading law enforcement agencies and advocates and reflects the work of the FBI’s CJIS Advisory Policy Board.

It’s still not perfect, but it is so, so, very much closer then we have ever had before, and fine-tuning it from here should be a lot easier than it was getting from the old definition to this new one.

Not knowing something has happened to you when it has is often awful, especially with something like rape where feelings of confusion on the part of a victim are so often used to dismiss or deny assault. Feeling like you can’t even voice what happened to you or express what you’re feeling because your assault, compared to the rarest kind of assault so often seen as the only “real” kind is a horrible way to feel. Healing from abuse and assault is often a long, demanding and challenging process, but you can’t even really get started until you have some basic words for and sense of what was done to you, a clarity that what someone chose to do to you was a serious crime, a crime where you were a victim.

I really cannot express how grateful I am for this change: grateful to FBI Director Robert Mueller and to the many individuals and initiatives (like The Feminist Majority Foundation, Ms. Magazine and Change.org) who pushed and kept pushing tirelessly for more than ten years for this positive, important change.

Thank you. Thank you.

By all means, how the FBI defines sexual violence can’t control how everyone does, nor magically erase myths and misrepresentation of perpetrators and victims. We’re still going to all have to keep doing a lot of work to turn around the dangerous and damaging mythology about sexual violence, its perpetrators and its victims. We’re still going to have to do a lot of work to keep holding the line when it comes to consent and the necessity of real consent, and for everyone, not just certain individuals or groups: for everyone. We still have a lot to do to address and change bystanding and victim-blaming and a whole bunch of other stuff that’s going to take time and the efforts of everyone, not just one big agency or advocacy organizations, but absolutely everyone, to rid our world of rape culture.

However, I think having a standard set like this is going to make all of that much easier. This change is powerful for those who will report and seek justice. It’s powerful even for those who do not, but can know that if they choose not to report or press charges, it’s not because a crime wasn’t committed, but because they are making a choice not to pursue justice for that crime. Powerful because survivors can see, in clear language from a major justice organization, what what has happened to them as exactly what it is, not what those who want to deny it would call it. They can have a sense of what rape is which is current and based on all we know now, not an archaic relic from an era decades before the civil rights movement, and a time when women had only had the right to vote for less than ten years (and when raping a woman you were married to — including violently — was legal in every state of the union and not acknowledged as “real” rape at all, because wives were very much considered, legally and socially, the sexual property of their husbands). It’s powerful when it comes to doing a better job collecting data on sexual assault so that everyone can begin to have a very real sense of how big a problem rape is and what we need to do to most effectively keep working to end sexual violence. Powerful for anyone, as well, who needs to know how very important and integral consent is, and how very much harm it can do to suggest it’s irrelevant, or say nothing about it at all.

And having these words from an authority as powerful as the FBI? That has serious power. The power to answer statements like, “But I didn’t say no,” “But I didn’t fight,” “But I was drinking,” “But she didn’t have a weapon,” “But it was my boyfriend/coach/teacher/parent,” “But I’m a guy,” “But I was wearing a short skirt,” “But I froze and didn’t do or say anything,” and other common statements reflective of a wide range of victims and survivors with a so-about-time definition that makes perfectly clear how none of those things mean that someone who was raped was not.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Tim Kaine Outlines Plan to ‘Make Housing Fair’

Ally Boguhn

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.

Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure

Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.

Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”

Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” Breitbart.com changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.

Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.

“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”

“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.

Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”

Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.

“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.

“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across Americaespecially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.

The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”

The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.

“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”

What Else We’re Reading

CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.

White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.

Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.

“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.

Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.

A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”

Analysis Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats Employ ‘Dangerous,’ Contradictory Strategies

Ally Boguhn & Christine Grimaldi

Democrats for Life of America leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradict each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party's platform is newly committed to increasing abortion access for all.

The national organization for anti-choice Democrats last month brought a litany of arguments against abortion to the party’s convention. As a few dozen supporters gathered for an event honoring anti-choice Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), the group ran into a consistent problem.

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradicted each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party’s platform is newly committed to increasing access to abortion care for all.

DFLA leaders and politicians attempted to distance themselves from the traditionally Republican anti-choice movement, but repeatedly invoked conservative falsehoods and medically unsupported science to make their arguments against abortion. One state-level lawmaker said she routinely sought guidance from the National Right to Life, while another claimed the Republican-allied group left anti-choice Democrats in his state to fend for themselves.

Over the course of multiple interviews, Rewire discovered that while the organization demanded that Democrats “open the big tent” for anti-choice party members in order to win political office, especially in the South, it lacked a coordinated strategy for making that happen and accomplishing its policy goals.

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Take, for example, 20-week abortion bans, which the organization’s website lists as a key legislative issue. When asked about why the group backed cutting off abortion care at that point in a pregnancy, DFLA Executive Director Kristen Day admitted that she didn’t “know what the rationale was.”

Janet Robert, the president of the group’s executive board, was considerably more forthcoming.

“Well, the group of pro-life people who came up with the 20-week ban felt that at 20 weeks, it’s pretty well established that a child can feel pain,” Robert claimed during an interview with Rewire. Pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to legal abortion care before the point of fetal viability, Rogers suggested that “more and more we’re seeing that children, prenatal children, are viable around 20 to 22 weeks” of pregnancy.

Medical consensus, however, has found it “unlikely” that a fetus can feel pain until the third trimester, which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. The doctors who testify otherwise in an effort to push through abortion restrictions are often discredited anti-choice activists. A 20-week fetus is “in no way shape or form” viable, according to Dr. Hal Lawrence, executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

When asked about scientific findings that fetuses do not feel pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy, Robert steadfastly claimed that “medical scientists do not agree on that issue.”

“There is clearly disagreement, and unfortunately, science has been manipulated by a lot of people to say one thing or another,” she continued.

While Robert parroted the very same medically unsupported fetal pain and viability lines often pushed by Republicans and anti-choice activists, she seemingly acknowledged that such restrictions were a way to work around the Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion legal.

“Now other legislatures are looking at 24 weeks—anything to get past the Supreme Court cut-off—because everybody know’s it’s a child … it’s all an arbitrary line,” she said, adding that “people use different rationales just to get around the stupid Supreme Court decision.”

Charles C. Camosy, a member of DFLA’s board, wrote in a May op-ed for the LA Times that a federal 20-week ban was “common-sense legislation.” Camosy encouraged Democratic lawmakers to help pass the abortion ban as “a carrot to get moderate Republicans on board” with paid family leave policies.

Robert also relied upon conservative talking points about fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, which routinely lie to patients to persuade them not to have an abortion. Robert said DFLA doesn’t often interact with women facing unplanned pregnancies, but the group nonetheless views such organizations as “absolutely fabulous [be]cause they help the women.”

Those who say such fake clinics provide patients with misinformation and falsehoods about abortion care are relying on “propaganda by Planned Parenthood,” Robert claimed, adding that the reproductive health-care provider simply doesn’t want patients seeking care at fake clinics and wants to take away those clinics’ funding.

Politicians echoed similar themes at DFLA’s convention event. Edwards’ award acceptance speech revealed his approach to governing, which, to date, includes support for restrictive abortion laws that disproportionately hurt people with low incomes, even as he has expanded Medicaid in Louisiana.

Also present at the event was Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson (D), responsible for a restrictive admitting privileges law that former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed into law in 2014. Jackson readily admitted to Rewire that she takes her legislative cues from the National Right to Life. She also name-checked Dorinda Bordlee, senior counsel of the Bioethics Defense Fund, an allied organization of the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“They don’t just draft bills for me,” Jackson told Rewire in an interview. “What we do is sit down and talk before every session and see what the pressing issues are in the area of supporting life.”

Despite what Jackson described as a commitment to the constitutionality of her laws, the Supreme Court in March blocked admitting privileges from taking effect in Louisiana. Louisiana’s law is also nearly identical to the Texas version that the Court struck down in June’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

Jackson did not acknowledge the setback, speaking instead about how such measures protect the health of pregnant people and fetuses. She did not mention any legal strategy—only that she’s “very prayerful” that admitting privileges will remain law in her state.

Jackson said her “rewarding” work with National Right to Life encompasses issues beyond abortion care—in her words, “how you’re going to care for the baby from the time you choose life.”

She claimed she’s not the only Democrat to seek out the group’s guidance.

“I have a lot of Democratic colleagues in my state, in other states, who work closely with [National] Right to Life,” Jackson said. “I think the common misconception is, you see a lot of party leaders saying they’re pro-abortion, pro-choice, and you just generally assume that a lot of the state legislators are. And that’s not true. An overwhelming majority of the Democrat state legislators in our state and others are pro-life. But, we say it like this: We care about them from the womb to the tomb.”

The relationship between anti-choice Democrats and anti-choice groups couldn’t be more different in South Dakota, said state house Rep. Ray Ring (D), a Hillary Clinton supporter at DFLA’s convention event.

Ring said South Dakota is home to a “small, not terribly active” chapter of DFLA. The “very Republican, very conservative” South Dakota Right to Life drives most of the state’s anti-choice activity and doesn’t collaborate with anti-choice Democrats in the legislature, regardless of their voting records on abortion.

Democrats hold a dozen of the 70 seats in South Dakota’s house and eight of the 35 in the state senate. Five of the Democratic legislators had a mixed record on choice and ten had a pro-choice record in the most recent legislative session, according to NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota Executive Director Samantha Spawn.

As a result, Ring and other anti-choice Democrats devote more of their legislative efforts toward policies such as Medicaid expansion, which they believe will reduce the number of pregnant people who seek abortion care. Ring acknowledged that restrictions on the procedure, such as a 20-week ban, “at best, make a very marginal difference”—a far cry not only from Republicans’ anti-choice playbook, but also DFLA’s position.

Ring and other anti-choice Democrats nevertheless tend to vote for Republican-sponsored abortion restrictions, falling in line with DFLA’s best practices. The group’s report, which it released at the event, implied that Democratic losses since 2008 are somehow tied to their party’s support for abortion rights, even though the turnover in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress can be attributed to a variety of factors, including gerrymandering to favor GOP victories.

Anecdotal evidence provides measured support for the inference.

Republican-leaning anti-choice groups targeted one of their own—Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)—in her June primary for merely expressing concern that a congressional 20-week abortion ban would have required rape victims to formally report their assaults to the police in order to receive exemptions. Ellmers eventually voted last year for the U.S. House of Representatives’ “disgustingly cruel” ban, similarly onerous rape and incest exceptions included.

If anti-choice groups could prevail against such a consistent opponent of abortion rights, they could easily do the same against even vocal “Democrats for Life.”

Former Rep. Kathy Dalhkemper (D-PA) contends that’s what happened to her and other anti-choice Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, which resulted in Republicans wresting control of the House.

“I believe that pro-life Democrats are the biggest threat to the Republicans, and that’s why we were targeted—and I’ll say harshly targeted—in 2010,” Dahlkemper said in an interview.

She alleged that anti-choice groups, often funded by Republicans, attacked her for supporting the Affordable Care Act. A 2010 Politico story describes how the Susan B. Anthony List funneled millions of dollars into equating the vote with support for abortion access, even though President Obama signed an executive order in the vein of the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition on federal funds for abortion care.

Dalhkemper advocated for perhaps the clearest strategy to counter the narrative that anti-choice Democrats somehow aren’t really opposed to abortion.

“What we need is support from our party at large, and we also need to band together, and we also need to continue to talk about that consistent life message that I think the vast majority of us believe in,” she said.

Self-described pro-choice Georgia House Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams (D) rejected the narratives spun by DFLA to supporters. In an interview with Rewire at the convention, Abrams called the organization’s claim that Democrats should work to elect anti-choice politicians from within their ranks in order to win in places like the South a “dangerous” strategy that assumes “that the South is the same static place it was 50 or 100 years ago.”

“I think what they’re reacting to is … a very strong religious current that runs throughout the South,” that pushes people to discuss their values when it comes to abortion, Abrams said. “But we are capable of complexity. And that’s the problem I have. [Its strategy] assumes and reduces Democrats to a single issue, but more importantly, it reduces the decision to one that is a binary decision—yes or no.”

That strategy also doesn’t take into account the intersectional identities of Southern voters and instead only focuses on appealing to the sensibilities of white men, noted Abrams.

“We are only successful when we acknowledge that I can be a Black woman who may be raised religiously pro-life but believe that other women have the right to make a choice,” she continued. “And the extent to which we think about ourselves only in terms of white men and trying to convince that very and increasingly narrow population to be our saviors in elections, that’s when we face the likelihood of being obsolete.”

Understanding that nuances exist among Southern voters—even those who are opposed to abortion personally—is instead the key to reaching them, Abrams said.

“Most of the women and most of the voters, we are used to having complex conversations about what happens,” she said. “And I do believe that it is both reductive and it’s self-defeating for us to say that you can only win if you’re a pro-life Democrat.”

To Abrams, being pro-choice means allowing people to “decide their path.”

“The use of reproductive choice is endemic to how we as women can be involved in society: how we can go to work, how we can raise families, make choices about who we are. And so while I am sympathetic to the concern that you have to … cut against the national narrative, being pro-choice means exactly that,” Abrams continued. “If their path is pro-life, fine. If their path is to decide to make other choices, to have an abortion, they can do so.”

“I’m a pro-choice woman who has strongly embraced the conversation and the option for women to choose whatever they want to choose,” Abrams said. “That is the best and, I think, most profound path we can take as legislators and as elected officials.”

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