Saturday, October 27, 2012

On Rape And Republican Politicians

 Content warning:  Sexual violence

Kathleen Parker, the conservative pundit who Cares Not For Women, has written a column about how utterly trivial and unimportant the war on women is:

We shouldn’t be talking about this silliness — Big Bird, “bull­s----er” or a girl’s “first time.”
We should be talking about The Issues, we keep telling ourselves. But in the waning days of the presidential campaign, these are the issues — binders full of cultural issues that continue to divide us and by which Barack Obama hopes to win reelection.
It is no accident that the war of competing economic theories has devolved into the same old culture war, beginning with the debate about the contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act. Ever since, the Obama campaign has strategically tried to push the Republican Party and Mitt Romney into a corner by advancing the war-on-women narrative.
That Obama has had ample help from certain outspoken players (Missouri and Indiana Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, respectively, to name the most notorious) has only made Romney’s challenges greater. But the war against women has always been a red herring.
Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock told us silly women that one cannot get pregnant from rape (Akin) and that rape victims should not have access to abortions because they are now containers for another life (Mourdock)  and carry the rapist's future child.

We should discuss Important Issues, not something this utterly trivial, thinks Kathleen. The Republican strategist Ron Christie also called women's issues "small ball."  Talk about your Freudian slips there!

You know that thing about lie being half way around the world before truth gets its boots on?  That's how writing about these issues works for me.  I can provide reams and reams of data to show that on the state level Republicans are trying to strip pregnant women of all the rights that other citizens have and that Republicans in Washington D.C. almost always vote against anything which might help women in the labor force (family leave, anti-discrimination laws).  I can point out that having access to contraceptives and safe, legal abortions can be essential for women's economic equality, I can write that these issues affect not only women but also men (contraceptives sorta work for both participants in sex, you know), that gender pay discrimination hurts not only the women who might be discriminated against but also their families and so on.

After all that work, I take a nap, and wake up to a new wave of arguments about how trivial women's issues are and how all the anti-choice Republican extremists are just outliers... Like these

And I start putting my boots back on...

As Jill wrote recently, those comments are just the icing on the cake.  If people uttering similar things are "outliers" as Parker argues in her piece, then the Republican Party sure is chock-full of outliers.

Let's put this red herring, this small ball, this trivial topic into some perspective.  You might start by looking at the state level initiatives on abortion.  Most states working hard to limit reproductive choice have Republican majorities in the state house.  Examples of the kinds of things which are small ball:

(ENACTED) ARIZONA: In April, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed a measure that would allow a medical professional to withhold information from a woman about her pregnancy that may have resulted in her obtaining an abortion. The bill will go into effect later this year.

KANSAS: In May, the Senate adopted an omnibus reproductive health bill that includes a provision that would shield medical professionals from litigation if they withhold information from a woman about her pregnancy that may have resulted in her obtaining an abortion. The bill would also amend the state laws on abortion coverage, postviability abortion, abortions after 20 weeks postfertilization, abortion counseling, abortion training programs, abortion based on gender, tax credits for abortion-providing organizations, and sex education. No further action is expected since the legislature has adjourned its regular session.  

(ENACTED) KANSAS: In May, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed a measure that expands the state’s refusal clause for abortion and potentially contraception. The new law allows an individual to refuse to perform, make referrals for or participate in abortion services or services the individual “reasonably believes” would end a pregnancy. Current law permits an individual to refuse to perform or participate in an abortion. The new law also permits a health care facility to prohibit “the performance, referral for or participation in” abortion services or services that the facility “reasonably believes” would end a pregnancy. Current law allows a hospital to refuse to permit the provision of an abortion. The law goes into effect in July.
MISSOURI: In March, the House adopted a measure that would allow health care providers and facilities to refuse to participate in contraceptive services. The bill would permit health care providers, including social workers and health care facility employees to refuse to participate in, or provide counseling or referral for abortion, contraception and other specific health care services. A refusal would not be permitted if a patient’s life was endangered.No further action is expected since the legislature has adjourned its regular session.

It's like water torture.  Drip, drip, drip, and slowly reproductive rights will be erased.  Pregnant women in some states can now be given suboptimal medical care simply because they are pregnant.  Unless they might die, of course.  But they can be allowed to become much, much sicker than similar patients who are not pregnant.

Let's return to the narrower topic of rape.  Notice that this country has moved from discussing reproductive rights for women in general to some nightmarish place where Republicans debate whether the woman could ever be more valuable than the fetus.  So far the answer might be that the fetus' or zygote's  right to life  always trumps the woman's human rights, except perhaps when her life is at risk.

Given that the fetus or zygote would certainly die with its aquarium, allowing for an exception for the woman's life is not exactly that laudable.  What it amounts to is that women can have an abortion only because the fetus/zygote would die in both scenarios.  So at least there's some value to rescuing the woman!  Sheesh.

Parker thinks Mourdock's comments about no-abortion for pregnant rape victims have a point:

Mourdock may have been indelicate in stating his position, but he is hardly a monster for believing that the definition of life, like the definition of rape, should not be parsed.
Mmm. Whose definition of life should we not parse?

Mr. Mourdock has the right not to have an abortion should he become pregnant from rape.  But Parker gives him far too much credit for the facile argument that Mr. Mourdock has decided a human being is created at the point of conception (not before or after)* and that therefore pregnant women are Russian dolls with other people inside them.  Those other people must not be harmed, even if they are inside the woman because she was forcefully, legally and honestly raped!   She must carry on, accept the risk of possible death from the pregnancy and give birth.  If she then decides to keep the child, the rapist in 31 US states has fatherhood rights and can become a permanent threatening menace in the victim's  life.  Legally.

Did Mr. Mourdock think of that in his long struggle of figuring out what should happen to pregnant rape victims?  Did he consider how his views mean that rape would be treated differently from all other crimes of violence?  That there would be no attempt to return the victim to the pre-crime state as well as it can be achieved?  That, indeed, his views allow for the perpetuation of the crime of violation?

I wish Mr. Mourdock read this satirical take (WARNING FOR EXTREMELY TRIGGERING CONTENT) on the shadow side of his views:  The fewer rights we give the rape victim the more rights we give the rapist.
*Before:  The sperm and egg are alive.  After:  In addition to the obvious point that an independent person might be viewed as created at birth (which we use in counting age, say), it's also the case that identical twins were just one fertilized egg initially.  If fertilized eggs are full human beings, then identical twins are one human being.  And so on. 

My point is that there is nothing obvious about picking one particular starting point for determining when a person exists.