Commentary Abortion

Rep. Justin Harris Wants to Make It Harder for Teenage Rape Survivors to Get Abortions

Amanda Marcotte

Arkansas state Rep. Justin Harris, who handed his adopted daughters over to a man who raped one of them, still thinks he's entitled to pass legislation that could force teen girls to bear their rapist's child.

The news out of Arkansas the last few weeks just keeps getting more horrifying. First it was revealed that state Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork) had once employed Eric Cameron Francis, a man accused of raping a 6-year-old girl last year, at Harris’ day care, Growing God’s Kingdom Preschool. Then it was discovered that Harris had actually given the little girl in question over to Francis, after having adopted and then “rehomed” her when Harris and his wife felt they couldn’t care for the girl or her little sister any longer. Then there were reports that Harris believed the girls, who had suffered abuse in their biological mother’s home, were possessed by demons and had subjected them to “exorcism.” Oh yeah, and while Harris loves bashing other people for getting government money, there are allegations that he continued to cash the checks he got for adopting the girls even after they were “rehomed.” And that’s on top of the dazzling stream of money he got—$4 million so far—from the government to run his day care, even though there are strong indications that the facility—which, again, is called Growing God’s Kingdom—was not following rules forbidding religious indoctrination.

Could this story get any worse? Of course! Now it’s been revealed that Harris is sponsoring a bill that could force underage rape victims to bear their rapist’s children. Despite his public statements expressing sadness over his adopted daughter being assaulted by the man he gave her over to, Harris appears not to have learned a single thing about compassion or empathy for rape survivors.

The bill in question, HB 1424, would change Arkansas’s current parental consent law to make it harder for underage rape victims to get abortions. Right now, the law requires minors who want abortions to either get parental consent to do so or subject themselves to the humiliating, arbitrary judicial bypass process. However, there is an exception for girls who have become pregnant through rape or incest. This new legislation would remove that exception. Apparently, Harris and his colleagues don’t think life is hard enough already for these individuals.

To make it worse, this kind of legislation might actually force teenagers to ask their own rapists for “permission” to abort, given, again, the parental consent clause. A lot of sexual abuse of minors happens in the home, often at the hands of people who are supposed to be the child’s guardians. Harris really should know this. After all, not only were the girls he adopted exposed to sexual abuse in their original home, but he handed them over to a man who raped one of them. If he had a lick of sense in him at all, he would know better than anyone how adolescents are sometimes abused at the hands of people who are supposed to be caring for them.

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But instead of learning anything, he evidently wants to give men who rape their daughters more control over whether or not their victims will have their baby. He’s also working to make judicial bypass harder to get, so all girls, rape victims or not, will have to endure more obstacles—and take more time that may push them over the legal threshold—to get an abortion. Harris needs to worry a little less about alleged demons and pay a little more attention to the evil in the real world—the kind of evil he is perpetuating by trying to restrict abortion care for rape survivors. 

This additional restriction isn’t just about girls who have endured assault at the hands of their family members, either. Not every rape survivor has a loving and supportive family. Take, for instance, this “men’s rights activist” that Jeff Sharlet interviewed for GQ:

A sore point for Factory, who has two daughters, who, like young women everywhere, he says, compete for the most exaggerated rape claim. It is, he says, a status thing. When one of his daughters came home one night and said she’d been raped, he said, “Are you fucking kidding me?” Sitting with us, he hikes his voice up to a falsetto in imitation: “‘Oh, I just got raped.'” He laughs. There’s a moment of silence. A bridge too far? “I told her if she pressed charges, I’d disown her.”

If the daughter of a man like that is pregnant from rape, what are the odds that she’s going to be able to talk through her options with her parents? Basically zero.

I am somewhat grateful to Justin Harris in one way: By sponsoring this bill, he has become the perfect distillation of the entire patriarchal conservative Christian mentality. Not just because he is alleged to have done exorcisms on both his adopted daughters and on the kids in his day care while ignoring or even perpetuating ordinary human evil. No, Harris perfectly embodies the Christian right because he’s all about mindless, unquestioning support of control over women’s bodies.

Emphasis on mindless. After all, all these restrictions on abortion are created under the assumption that women and girls cannot be trusted to make the best decisions for themselves about their own bodies and therefore need someone else—politicians, judges, or parents—to decide for them. Harris, with his strict anti-choice views, clearly believes he deserves more say over a woman’s body than she does.

There’s also a deeper irony in this story. Harris felt entitled to say “no thank you” to raising two little girls, after he had asked for them, overruled people’s reported objections to adopting them, and finalized the adoption—all because he and his wife realized after the fact that they were in over their heads. But while he reserved the ability to say “no” to parenthood after making all these commitments, he wants to begrudge women who are saying “no” responsibly, by doing it before they have a baby and before someone else has come to depend on them, of the same right. This isn’t even “abortion for me and not for thee.” Harris, as a mighty patriarch, wants to put his personal comfort before the needs of actual human beings who require care, all while demanding that women sacrifice their own wellbeing for people that don’t even exist yet.

The hypocrisy and cruelty on display here is truly astounding. Harris is a man who has amply demonstrated that he can’t handle taking responsibility for himself and his family, but he still mindlessly demands control over the bodies of teen girls, even those who have been raped. Looking over the landscape, it’s hard not to wonder if this country would be better off if we took all the conservative men out of government and replaced them with teenage girls. After all, teen girls seem to be better decision-makers.

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