“Legitimate rape” and legitimate abortions

A year after then-Rep. Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” fiasco, the National Women’s Law Center has released a report in commemoration: Shut That Whole Thing Down: A Survey of Abortion Restrictions Even in Cases of Rape. The report looks at abortion restrictions from the first six months of this year and, as RH Reality Check summarized, finds:

–86 percent (235) of the 273 provisions that politicians introduced in state legislatures to restrict a woman’s access to abortion apply to a woman whose pregnancy resulted from rape.

–71 percent (27) of the 38 state provisions restricting women’s access to abortion enacted by the states apply to a woman whose pregnancy resulted from rape.

–72 percent (18) of the 25 bills introduced in Congress to restrict a woman’s access to abortion apply to a woman whose pregnancy resulted from rape.

The RHRC coverage acknowledges the potential harm of focusing on abortion restrictions on pregnancies resulting from rape, noting that ‘some pro-choice advocates have argued that there’s an inherent problem with the abortion restrictions framing in that it feeds stigma by ‘legitimizing’ some abortions and not others.”

“But,” the blog argued, “it can be a useful framing to illustrate how extreme the current legislative attacks from anti-choice conservatives are.”

Maybe — but I’m not convinced. This particular set of restrictions is especially extreme only if we believe people pregnant from rape are especially deserving of abortions. Of course rape survivors should have access to abortion care, but so should everyone. The “even” in the NWLC’s report title (“A Survey of Abortion Restrictions Even in Cases of Rape”) weighs heavy: all obstacles to abortion are bad, the single word implies, but aren’t these particularly atrocious?

I don’t mean to deny the particular pain of being forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy conceived from violence. However, the minute we label restrictions on certain people or groups as exceptionally egregious, we stigmatize others lower on the hierarchy of deservedness — the metric of “legitimate abortions” — and abandon the core principle of reproductive justice: true access for all. To do so isn’t an unfortunate side effect of combating the GOP’s anti-choice campaign. It’s playing right into their hands.

New Haven, CT

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX, a national legal education campaign against campus gender-based violence. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NPR. Through Know Your IX, she has organized with students across the country to build campuses free from discrimination and violence, developed federal policy on Title IX enforcement, and has testified at the Senate. At Yale Law, Alexandra focuses on antidiscrimination law and is a member of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic. Alexandra is committed to developing and strengthening responses to gender-based violence outside the criminal justice system through writing, organizing, and the law. Keep an eye out for The Feminist Utopia Project, co-edited by Alexandra and forthcoming from the Feminist Press (2015).

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX.

Read more about Alexandra

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/andejoh/ John

    The whole abortion debate got muddled when people stopped talking about the right to bodily autonomy and started talking about reproductive rights. There are no such thing as reproductive rights. You control your reproduction because you control your body (the right to bodily autonomy).

    Consider this should a man or boy raped by a woman be able to force her to abort a child? It’s a clearly horrific circumstance for him and I’m sure most people would want to limit the impact on him as much as possible, but the answer is no. One of the more moderate MRAs I know had voiced support for forced abortion in cases of severe infant abnormality. Maybe a woman should have an abortion if that where to happen, but she shouldn’t be forced to have one.

    Whenever we talk about any thing other than bodily autonomy as the justification for keeping abortion legal we delegitimizes some abortions. Point out that it could be a financial burden, wealthy women shouldn’t have abortions or people will point out adoption. Of equal importance though, are we also delegitimizing some births. Eugenics hasn’t been that long ago, forced sterilization, etc. We run the risk of even fair minded people saying that certain people don’t deserve to be born.

  • http://feministing.com/members/jazzhammer/ Jennifer Hammer

    The problem I have with exception clauses is that it becomes very clear that the people who support abortion restriction with exceptions do not actually believe that embryos and fetuses have rights (fetuses conceived by rape are not different than ones conceived any other way obviously), but that a woman’s right to an abortion depends on her sexual behaviour. One set of rights for the madonnas and another for the whores. The fundamental roots of the “abortion is wrong except when…” crowd is misogyny. At least the people who believe that any and all abortion is murder without exception might truly care about fetuses as they claim, and not just hate women. Although the truth may be a little of both, we could still grant them the benefit of the doubt. That said, I agree with the article here. By arguing for exception clauses we legitimize the “anti-abortion except…” misogynist crowd, when we need to be arguing pro choice for everyone.