Anti-choice politicians just can’t stop saying stupid things about rape. The problem, of course, is that the same misogyny that motivates opposition to reproductive rights also causes revolting and backwards attitudes about sexual violence, including the belief that women routinely lie about rape in order to conceal their sexual activity. (Noted before, but worth repeating: Why would someone claim she’s raped and endure everyone interrogating her sexual history if she wants to hide her sexual history? If someone actually feels bad about having sex—a much rarer occasion than anti-choicers believe—pretending it didn’t happen and moving on is the preferred strategy.) Thus, you’re guaranteed an endless stream of anti-choice nuts thinking they’ve found the perfect way to accuse rape victims of lying without sounding like they’re accusing rape victims of lying. Every time, however, fails, because you can’t paint a turd with gold paint and try to get it into Ft. Knox.
The latest example is Celeste Greig, the head of the California Republican Assembly, who thought the best way to distance herself from Todd Akin’s notorious “legitimate rape” comment was to agree whole-heartedly with it.
“Granted, the percentage of pregnancies due to rape is small because it’s an act of violence, because the body is traumatized. I don’t know what percentage of pregnancies are due to the violence of rape. Because of the trauma the body goes through,” she told the newspaper before arriving at the state GOP’s spring convention in Sacramento.
This has been discussed over and over and over again, but it’s worth repeating: Pregnancy from rape is very common, and no amount of right-wing wishful thinking will change that fact. Pregnancy resulting from rape was estimated to be around 32,000 cases a year from a longitudinal study conducted in 1996. About half of those surveyed had an abortion, putting their estimates at 16,000 abortions needed a year. Guttmacher Institute’s more recent statistics (which were collected differently) indicate that about 1 percent of women getting abortions were raped, which would put the number of rape-related pregnancies at around 12,000. This is not a small number.
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Using the more conservative Guttmacher numbers, let’s do a little back-of-the-envelope statistics-generating to show how much rape abortion providers in this country have to deal with. The more conservative numbers would suggest a woman gets pregnant by rape every 43 minutes in this country, assuming half of them don’t get abortions. That means 230 women a week in this country need to have abortions to end a pregnancy caused by rape. There are only 1,793 abortion providers in this country. That means, in any given week, 13 percent of abortion providers are seeing a woman who has been raped—that’s more than one in ten every week. If you’re one of those terrible people who shows up at abortion clinics to yell at patients and shame them for their sexual choices, you have a greater than one in ten chance every week of yelling invective at a woman who had a man force sex on her against her will. No wonder they pretend it doesn’t happen.
If we stick to those more conservative numbers—and the odds are, it’s likely higher than that, because many women don’t call their rapes “rape”—that means that your average abortion provider is seeing seven rape victims a year. That’s one a little over every two months. That puts into stark relief the wide gulf in compassion between anti-choicers and abortion providers for women. A member of one group—abortion providers—helps an average of seven women a year get their lives back after a rape. Another group—anti-choice nuts—pretends that said women don’t exist and even goes so far as to harass them as they try to regain control over their bodies after rapists took it away. One group will be remembered by rape victims who choose to abort as the people who came through in a time of crisis. The other group will be remembered by rape victims as the people who dismissed and minimized their pain, or insinuated that they were bad people with no morals as they walked into a clinic.
This is why the rape comments from anti-choice politicians are so terrible. Not because they are imprecise or badly worded, but because they drive home how very little anti-choicers care about women. It just creates a visceral reminder that no matter who you are, or what you’ve endured, they will reduce you to a baby bucket whose feelings will never matter to them. In a sense, it’s reassuring to know that they’re consistent about this. Women aren’t people in their eyes if they choose sex, so it makes sense that they remain non-persons undeserving of rights even after a rape. But still, being reminded of how little anti-choicers think of women is upsetting, even if intellectually we know it’s consistent.
It’s also distressing because of the undercurrent of remarks like Akin’s or now Greig’s, the belief that many or most rape victims are either liars or oversensitive babies who probably “had it coming” by flirting, drinking, or wearing short skirts. The belief that rape rarely results in pregnancy stems from a belief that, to refresh you on Akin’s notorious word, the only “legitimate” rapes are incidents where an evil stranger jumps out of the bushes and rapes you. The majority of rapes, which are committed by men the victim , in social situations like parties or dates, are assumed to be not-rapes. Sometimes victims are accused of merely making it up to cover up for consensual sex. In some cases, the force is tacitly acknowledged but dismissed as “not real rape,” but some lesser crime, like being a cad or “gray rape.” Either way, if you end up pregnant, prepare to have anti-choicers treat this as proof that women are conniving or stupid, not that we have a systemic problem of violence against women.
If anyone wants to know why it took 500 days to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act or why, even when it did pass, most Republicans voted against it, this is your answer. Social conservatives can’t help but minimize violence against women, because accepting its reality destroys their neat little views about how everything would go great for women if we just submitted to their sexist worldview and accepted our fates as second class citizens. So they plug their fingers in their ears and say, “La la la, it’s not true, I can’t hear you!” and hope all this conflicting information will just go away.