Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Legitimate" Abortion: What We Should Be Talking About in the Akin Fiasco

Everyone is talking about the insensitive and ignorant remarks made last week by Missouri House Representative Todd Akin, who, when asked to defend his stance against abortion even in the case of rape, claimed that pregnancy as result of rape was practically impossible.  Supported by the latest research from Pseudoscience CrazyNutJob Weekly, Akin stated that "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

I'm not going to delve into what a bonehead this guy is-- the 24 hours news circuit is covering that pretty well.  I do want to use this conversation to take a step back and examine the way we talk about abortion in this country.

​A very long-standing pro-choice response to anti-abortion arguments is "Well, what about abortion in cases of rape or incest?"  (This is where Akin got himself into hot water).  It's an easy talking point to invoke, because pretty much anyone with a heart will admit that a pregnancy under such horrifying instances, in which a woman had no choice to have sex in the first place, and therefore is in no way responsible for her pregnancy, is an exception to the "no abortions ever" rule.
I understand that the intention of asking  "What about cases of rape?"  may have initially been to expose a logical inconsistency* in the pro-life argument (which has been futile given how comfortable people are living with cognitive dissonance).   But this is not the way it's being used: pro-choice politicians regularly frame any argument for abortion rights in terms of victims of rape and incest.  It's a cheap way to draw sympathy to the cause, and it's insensitive to actual rape and incest survivors.

​Furthermore, the tactic is truly dangerous and disempowering for women, because the implication is that abortion needs to be available just in case.  All other reasons for abortion rights are considered secondary and illegitimate.  The voices of all women who choose abortion outside of rape or health concerns, or support the right to one, are silenced.  The discussion leaves out the myriad of reasons why abortion rights are essential: so that women can control their lives and bodies, so women can choose the number and spacing of their children, so that families can make responsible decisions, so that women for whom contraception and education are not readily available have some protection. 

Abortion is a sensitive issue, for sure, but until we start acknowledging the real needs of women regarding their reproductive health choices, women will never be able to lead free and self-fulfilled lives.  It starts when we agree on the basic principle, with no equivocation or euphemism, that women should be able to do whatever the hell they want with their bodies.  Period.

*If you truly believe in the personhood of a fetus, as many pro-lifers do, it really would not matter how the pregnancy was derived.  That pregnancy would still be perceived as a human child and to abort it would be murder.  I don't agree with this, obviously, but this is the logic of the argument.   If pro-lifers are willing to equivocate in the instances of rape, I believe, then their reason for being against abortion cannot be because they believe human life starts at conception, as is commonly argued.  Consequently, one can assume, that anti-abortion regulation is really intended to control women's behavior.  In other words, if you don't choose to have sex (in the case of rape), you can have an abortion, but if you did choose to have sex, that option is off limits because... how dare you be such a hussy!  Akin is actually one of the few who is logically consistent in his views.  He went onto say in his notorious interview that, for cases of pregnancy resulting from rape, " I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child."

1 comment:

  1. Love this post. Also, in regards to your small-font point, I really wish the media would address this when they talk about abortion, and not try to make the "against except in cases of incest or rape" position seem like a good logical alternative. Because it is not logical at all. I mean, it all boils down to the fact that these people just want to punish women for daring to have and enjoy sex, and I know this is a common discussion in feminist circles, but it also needs to be a point that is made loud and often in the mainstream media.

    I'd say more but it would just be me basically talking all your points back at you, so let me just say I wholeheartedly agree with everything you've said, and leave it at that.