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How Rape Politics Reveal the Paradox of Modern Conservatism

August 28, 2012|Stephen Markley

Lately, a lot of hash has been made over Todd Aiken’s remarks that “women’s bodies have a way to shut that whole thing down” in reference to pregnancies that occur from rape. This has opened a whole Pandora’s Box of tight-rope-walking comments from Republican candidates with Mitt Romney fumbling towards an exception for cases of rape and the Republican platform vowing to outlaw abortion with no exceptions.

Witness Republican senatorial candidate Tom Smith of Pennsylvania, currently facing an uphill battle against incumbent Bob Casey, botch this question from a reporter:

ASSOCIATED PRESS: How would you tell a daughter or a granddaughter who, God forbid, would be the victim of a rape, to keep the child against her own will? Do you have a way to explain that?

SMITH: I lived something similar to that with my own family. She chose life, and I commend her for that. She knew my views. But, fortunately for me, I didn’t have to ... she chose they way I thought. Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t rape.

SCOLFORO: Similar how?

SMITH: Uh, having a baby out of wedlock.

SCOLFORO: That’s similar to rape?

SMITH: No, no, no, but … put yourself in a father’s situation, yes. It is similar. But, back to the original, I’m pro-life, period. 

Before appearing to compare out-of-wedlock sex to rape, he acknowledged that this person within his family decided to keep a pregnancy despite inconvenient circumstances. Inconvenient circumstances, however, are a hell of a lot different than being forced by the state or federal government to bear a child conceived during a violent crime, which is essentially what the Republican platform would enforce.

Now, staying outside the very icky and unpleasant abortion argument, (which I totally got done debating with people back in middle school, and for which I actually think there are compelling secular arguments on the pro-life side), the question of a rape exemption opens up an interesting avenue into the paradox of modern conservatism so often described as, “They want government just small enough to fit into your bedroom.”

Even Ron Paul, whose acolytes made multiple demonstrations at the Republican convention these past few days, and who, for so many, embodies the ultimate conclusion of individual liberty, of “freedom”, still believes abortion should be illegal in all cases. To say this would be fundamentally impossible without a government intrusion into the private lives of individuals so vast it would resemble Stalinism is something you—if you count yourself as pro-life—need to understand and come to grips with.

As I said, I have a great deal of sympathy to the secular aspects of the pro-life argument. If a pro-life politician was to come forward with a proposal to reduce the number of abortions by offering teenagers realistic sex-ed that doesn’t begin with the proposition that they can all live as monks until marriage, guarantee widespread access to contraceptives, and create a program that paired unwanted pregnancies with families looking to adopt, you’d have a shot at a winning argument.

But that’s not even close to what the Republican platform consists of. It more or less advocates ways to increase the number of unwanted pregnancies with its hostility toward the economic groups most likely to incur unwanted pregnancies and medieval views on contraception. Within this paradigm, my pro-life friends, either you believe in individual liberty or you believe in stopping abortions, but you cannot believe in both.

In Latin American countries that ban abortions except for in cases of rape, women simply walk into clinics and say they’ve been raped. The exemption acts as a release valve and is exploited by desperate people who have no other option. The pro-life movement knows this would be the case if they ever did manage to overturn Roe v. Wade and illegalize abortion. What the pro-life movement has failed to explain in any meaningful way, however, is how the state would actually prevent abortions, which is much different than making the practice illegal.

Women (and men) have always sought to end unwanted pregnancies. Over the centuries they have come up with some nasty, ingenious and sickening ways to do so. This is why the pro-choice movement is so fond of plastering images of coat hangers on their enemies, a gruesome reminder of how women used to go about ending a pregnancy. However, the class of people the Republican Party most wants to protect—the wealthy—would never suffer from illegalized abortions. They will always have doctors willing to perform the relatively simple procedure, and in an abortion-illegalized world, their daughters would go on doing so without impediment.

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