On Denver radio, Buck, the leading Republican candidate in the U.S. Senate race in Colorado, compared the "feeling" he had of wanting to be in control of his body during his bout with cancer with the desire of women to make a decision about whether to have an abortion. The difference, he said, is the "life of the unborn child."
Appearing on a Denver radio station Monday, Colorado U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck compared pregnancy with his recent battle with cancer.
“Yes, I am ‘pro-life,’” Buck told KLZ talk-show host Randy Corporon on his Wake Up show. “While I understand a woman wants to be in control of her body—it’s certainly the feeling that I had when I was a cancer patient, I wanted to be in control of the decisions that were made concerning my body—there is another fundamental issue at stake. And that’s the life of the unborn child. And I hold that life dear and precious and believe we have to do everything we can to protect the life of the unborn.”
Buck, who lost a tight race to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) in 2010, is leading a crowded field of Republicans vying to take on pro-choice Democrat Mark Udall in November.
In a December Public Policy Polling survey, Buck was the choice of 45 percent of GOP voters. His closest GOP competitor, state Sen. Randy Baumgardner (R-Hot Sulphur Springs), garnered 8 percent in the poll.
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Political observers agree that the votes of suburban women cost Buck a U.S. Senate seat in 2010, and Buck’s strong anti-choice positions are seen as a key reason women turned away from him, as well as his statements on other social issues.
Asked to respond to Buck’s radio comments, Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, told Rewire in an email, “Ken Buck was out of touch with Colorado voters the last time he sought elected office, and he still does not get it. Women must continue to have the fundamental right to have control of her body, and she is the only one who should be making decisions about what happens to her body without interference from politicians or government. Decisions about reproductive health should remain a decision between a woman and her health-care provider, period. Colorado voters have reaffirmed this several times over and will again in 2014.”
In his KLZ interview, Buck also expressed broad opposition to the Obama administration’s compromise position of requiring health insurance companies to include birth control in health plans.
“This administration has ignored those of us who place our faith in the front of our beliefs, and it’s just so sad to think that the government would even want to put itself in the position of forcing a doctor to perform an abortion or issue birth control or do other things that violate that doctor’s conscience or a hospital or an employer require to purchase certain types of insurance,” Buck told KLZ. “It’s short-sighted. It’s, in my opinion, a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, of the Bill of Rights. And it’s just sad that we’ve come to this point in our country’s history.”
Under Obamacare, no doctor is required to perform an abortion. The national health law does set minimum standards for health insurance.
Anti-choice Republicans have struggled in recent years in answering abortion-related questions. For example, Rep. Todd Akin’s thoughts about “legitimate rape” sunk his 2010 bid for a Senate seat in Missouri.
A Republican running for U.S. Senate in Colorado was on record during the GOP primary as supporting a "personhood" abortion ban, but now, as Republicans have done in previous Colorado elections, he’s sounding more pro-choice.
During his successful primary campaign to take on U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Darryl Glenn clearly stated his opposition to the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, garnering the support of anti-choice organization Colorado Right to Life (CRTL).
Glenn’s “pro-life” rating from the group was based on a questionnaire revealing, “with no weasel-room,” that the candidate believes “government has an obligation to protect all human life from conception forward” and “every innocent human being has an inalienable Right to Life at every age or stage of development,” according to the CRTL blog.
Glenn, an El Paso county commissioner, is now hedging on his stringent anti-choice stance and angering his former anti-choice allies in the process.
“As a person who has two adult daughters, I put myself in that situation,” Glenn said during a July 19 appearance on Devil’s Advocate, a local public affairs television program sponsored by a conservative think tank. “And I want to make sure that when we’re talking about health care, you want to make sure that women have the ability and access to health care, so that they understand all the different options that are out there. And at some point in time, maybe they might have to make that decision. But that is a personal decision that they have to make between them and … God.”
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Anti-choice activists were unhappy with Glenn’s comments.
“I’m willing to say on behalf of our organization that his comments were not nearly as strong as we would hope,” Susan Sutherland, vice president of Colorado Right to Life, told the Durango Herald, which broke the story Monday. “He was just trying to play a little bit of political maneuvering there.”
“As a politician, he knows that a consistent 100% pro-life position will make it much more difficult for him to get elected to a statewide elected position in Colorado,” wrote Jones, vice president of the anti-choice Personhood Alliance. “We know from past personhood campaigns that support for a 100% pro-life position at the present time can get you around 35% of the vote statewide, however, with that sizable support comes 45% or more of ardent opposition. This political reality leads candidates for statewide office to do the primary-general two-step.”
“Every politician has to make a call on fundamental issues,” Jones continued. “What call they end up making is simultaneously a reflection of the politician’s priorities (getting elected v. standing for a principle) and of the electorate who on fundamental questions such as the right to life is itself not consistent.”
One pro-choice group in Colorado downplayed the debate about Glenn’s choice of words to describe his abortion stance, focusing instead on the policy ramifications.
“We are not concerned about the label that someone has or is given,” said Cristina Aguilar, executive director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), in an email statement. “We are committed to ensuring that women have access to information and support to make the decision that is best for them and that they are able to seek quality health care without medically unnecessary barriers.”
Writer Dani Kelley thought she had shed the patriarchal and self-denying lessons of her conservative religious childhood. But those teachings blocked her from initially admitting that an encounter with a man she met online was not a "date" that proved her sexual liberation, but an extended sexual assault.
Content note: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence.
The night I first truly realized something was wrong was supposed to be a good night.
A visiting friend and I were in pajamas, eating breakfast food at 10 p.m., wrapped in blankets while swapping stories of recent struggles and laughs.
There I was, animatedly telling her about my recently acquired (and discarded) “fuck buddy,” when suddenly the story caught in my throat.
When I finally managed to choke out the words, they weren’t what I expected to say. “He—he held me down—until, until I couldn’t—breathe.”
Hearing myself say it out loud was a gut-punch. I was sobbing, gasping for breath, arms wrapped as if to hold myself together, spiraling into a terrifying realization.
This isn’t the story I wanted.
Unlearning My Training
I grew up in the Plymouth Brethren movement, a small fundamentalist Christian denomination that justifies strict gender roles through a literal approach to the Bible. So, according to 1 Corinthians 11:7, men are considered “the image and glory of God,” while women are merely “the glory of man.” As a result, women are expected to wear head coverings during any church service, among other restrictions that can be best summed up by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-12: Women are never allowed to have authority over men.
If you’ve spent any number of years in conservative Christianity like I did, you’re likely familiar with the fundamentalist tendencyto demonize that which is morally neutral or positive (like premarital sex or civil rights) while sugar-coating negative experiences. The sugar-coating can be twofold: Biblical principles are often used to shame or gaslight abuse victims (like those being shunned or controlled or beaten by their husbands) while platitudes are often employed to help members cope with “the sufferings of this present time,” assuring them that these tragedies are “not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
In many ways, it’s easy to unlearn the demonization of humanity as you gain actual real-world experience refuting such flimsy claims. But the shame? That can be more difficult to shake.
On top of that, the biblical literalism frequentlyrequired by conservative Christianity in the United States promotes a terrifying interpretation of Scripture, such as Jeremiah 17:9. The King James Version gives the verse a stern voice, telling us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” If we believe this, we must accept that we’re untrustworthy witnesses to our own lives. Yet somehow, we’re expected to rely on the authority of those the Bible deems worthy. People like all Christians, older people, and men.
Though I’ve abandoned Christianity and embraced feminist secular humanism, the culture in which I grew up and my short time at conservative Bob Jones University still affect how I view myself and act in social situations. The lessons of my formative years created a perfect storm of terrible indoctrination: gender roles that promoted repressed individuality for women while encouraging toxic masculinity, explicit teaching that led to constant second-guessing my ability to accurately understand my own life, and a biblical impetus to “rejoice in my suffering.”
Decades of training taught me I’m not allowed to set boundaries.
But Some Habits Die Hard
Here’s the thing. At almost 30, I’d never dated anyone other than my ex-husband. So I thought it was about time to change that.
When I found this man’s online profile, I was pleasantly surprised. It was full of the kind of geekery I’m into, even down to the specific affinity for eclectic music. I wrote to him, making sure my message and tone were casual. He responded instantly, full of charisma and charm. Within hours, we’d made plans to meet.
He was just as friendly and attentive in person. After wandering around town, window-shopping, and getting to know one another, he suggested we go to his favorite bar. As he drank (while I sipped water), he kept paying me compliments, slowly breaking the touch barrier. And honestly, I was enthralled—no one had paid attention to me like this in years.
When he suggested moving out to the car where we could be a little more intimate, I agreed. The rush of feeling desired was intoxicating. He seemed so focused on consent—asking permission before doing anything. Plus, he was quite straightforward about what he wanted, which I found exciting.
So…I brought him home.
This new and exciting “arrangement” lasted one week, during which we had very satisfying, attachment-free sex several times and after which we parted ways as friends.
That’s the story I told people. That’s the story I thought I believed. I’d been freed from the rigid expectations and restraints of my youth’s purity culture.
Now. You’re about to hear me say many things I know to be wrong. Many feminists or victim advocates almost certainly know the rationalizations and reactions I’m about to describe are both normal responses to abuse and a result of ingrained lies about sex in our culture. Not to mention evidence of the influence that right-wing conservatism can have on shaping self-actualization.
As I was telling people the story above, I left out important details. Were my omissions deliberate? An instinctive self-preservation mechanism? A carryover from draconian ideals about promiscuity?
When I broke down crying with my friend, I finally realized I’d kept quiet because I couldn’t bear to hear myself say what happened.
I’m a feminist, damn it. I left all the puritanical understandings of gender roles behind when I exited Christianity! I even write about social justice and victim advocacy. I ought to recognize rape culture!
If only being a socially aware feminist was enough to erase decades of socialization as a woman within rape culture—or provide inoculation against sexual violence.
That first night, once we got to my car, he stopped checking in with me. I dismissed the red flag as soon as I noticed it, telling myself he’d stop if I showed discomfort. Then he smacked my ass—hard. I pulled away, staring at him in shocked revulsion. “Sorry,” he replied, smirking.
He suggested that we go back to my house, saying we’d have more privacy than at his place. I was uneasy, unconvinced. But he began passionately kissing, groping, petting, and pleading. Against my better judgment, I relented.
Yet, in the seclusion of my home, there was no more asking. There was only telling.
Before I knew it, I’d been thrown on my back as he pulled off my clothes. I froze. The only coherent thought I could manage was a weak stammer, asking if he had a condom. He seemed agitated. “Are you on birth control?” That’s not the point! I thought, mechanically answering “yes.”
With a triumphant grin and no further discussion, he forced himself into me. Pleasure fought with growing panic as something within me screamed for things to slow down, to just stop. The sensation was familiar: identical to how I felt when raped as a child.
I frantically pushed him off and rolled away, hyperventilating. I muttered repeatedly, “I need a minute. Just give me a minute. I need a minute.”
“We’re not finished yet!” he snapped angrily. As he reached for me again, I screeched hysterically, “I’M NOT OK! I NEED A MINUTE!”
Suddenly, he was kind and caring. Instead of being alarmed, I was strangely grateful. So once I calmed down, I fucked him. More than once.
It was—I told myself—consensual. After all, he comforted me during a flashback. Didn’t I owe him that much?
Yet, if I didn’t do what he wanted, he’d forcefully smack my ass. If I didn’t seem happy enough, he’d insistently tell me to smile as he hit me again, harder. He seemed to relish the strained smile I would force on command.
I kept telling myself I was okay. Happy, even. Look at how liberated I was!
All week, I was either at his beck and call or fighting suicidal urges. Never having liked alcohol before, I started drinking heavily. I did all I could to minimize or ignore the abuse. Even with his last visit—as I fought to breathe while he forcefully held my head down during oral sex, effectively choking me—I initially told myself desperately that surely he wouldn’t do any of this on purpose.
The Stories We Tell and The Stories That Just Are
Reflecting on that week, I’m engulfed in shame. I’m a proud feminist. I know what coercion looks like. I know what rape looks like. I know it’s rarely a scary man wearing a ski mask in a back alley. I’ve heard all the victim-blaming rape apologia you have: that women make up rape when they regret consenting to sex, or going on a date means sex is in the cards, or bringing someone home means you’re game for anything.
Reality is, all of us have been socialized within a patriarchal system that clouds our experiences and ability to classify them. We’re told to tend and befriend the men who threaten us. De-escalation at any cost is the go-to response of almost any woman I’ve ever talked to about unwanted male attention. Whatever will satiate the beast and keep us safe.
It’s all lies, of course. Our culture lies when it says that there are blurred lines when it comes to consent. It violates our personhood when it requires us to change the narrative of the violence enacted against us for their own comfort. Right-wing Christianity lies when it says we don’t belong to ourselves and must submit to the authority of a religion or a gender.
Nobody’s assaulted because they weren’t nice enough or because they “failed” to de-escalate. There’s nothing we can do to provoke such violence. Rape is never deserved. The responsibility for sexual assault lies entirely with those who attack us.
So why was the story I told during and after that ordeal so radically and fundamentally different from what actually happened? And why the hell did I think any of what happened was OK?
Rape myths are so ingrained in our cultural understanding of relationships that it was easier for me to believe nothing bad had happened than to accept the truth. I thought if I could only tell the story I wanted it to be, then maybe that’s what really happened. I thought if I was willing—if I kept having him over, if I did what he ordered, if I told my friends how wonderful it was—it would mean everything was fine. It would mean I wasn’t suffering from post-traumatic stress or anxiety about defying the conservative tenets of my former political and religious system.
Sometimes, we tell ourselves the stories we want to hear until we’re able to bear the stories of what actually happened.
We all have a right to say who has what kind of access to our bodies. A man’s masculinity gives him no authority over anyone’s sexual agency. A lack of a “no” doesn’t mean a “yes.”Coercion isn’t consent. Sexual acts performed without consent are assault. We have a right to tell our stories—our real stories.
So, while this isn’t the story I wanted, it’s the story that is.