Rape On Their Minds

With yet another Republican candidate for high office–Washington congressional candidate John Koster–offering us his pithy thoughts on how it was fine by him to force rape victims to bear the children of their rapists–the reaction of Zerlina (a rape survivor) at Feministing is elegantly simple:

I don’t have any interest in hearing the opinion of a man who has never been the victim of sexual assault. And I don’t have any interest in hearing what he thinks about my choices. None. I don’t even know why these anti-choice Republicans think they are entitled to speak about the topic. This is about the power of women as independent actors to make choices about their own bodies. A rape survivor has already lost power and control over her bodily autonomy and now Republican men want to let us know what they think we should be allowed to do after the rape?

But note this tweet in response from Amanda Marcotte:

It is hard to take, but I do prefer them being themselves rather than trying to pretend they aren’t misogynists.

Amanda makes a good point, and not just because of the horror inspired by these kind of blithe paternalistic remarks from men shedding crocodile tears over the poor rape victim they’d protect (as Koster put it) from “more violence” by forcing her to carry the pregnancy to term.

More broadly, the antichoice movement has spent much of the last decade or so shrewdly guiding the policy debate to topics involving possible exceptions to a general regime of legalized abortion: so-called “partial-birth abortions,” sex-selection abortions, abortions “of [sic!] convenience, denials of public funding for abortions, and most recently, second-trimester abortions at a stage where antichoice “scientists” claim the fetus can feel pain. This is why the percentage of Americans self-identifying as “pro-life” has gone up gradually over time.

But now, with state legislatures busily enacting anti-abortion legislation and the prospect of a Supreme Court majority overturning Roe v. Wade tantalizingly close, the debate over abortion, at least on the Right, is suddenly about exceptions to a regime where abortion is illegal. And so you get arguments between the “personhood” supporters and the “no-exceptions” supporters on the one hand, and those who while generally favoring an abolition of the right to choose, might consider, in their enormous compassion, exceptions for rape and incest victims, or perhaps the use of contraceptives the serious antichoice activists consider “abortifacients” (basically, all of them other than barrier methods or coitus interruptus).

I agree with Marcotte that it’s useful to expose the extremism of the antichoice agenda–not just among the kind of people who march around clinics carrying bloody fetus posters, but among regular Republican politicians; Koster and Mourdock and Akin, after all, are just reflecting every Republican national platform since 1980, not to mention the official position of the GOP vice presidential nominee until a few weeks ago.

The only problem with this publicity, however, is that it perversely helps make those who are willing to make tiny exceptions to an abortion ban stake a claim to being “moderate.” That is precisely what Mitt Romney is up to in that infamous ad where a woman expresses relief at discovering that he accepts (today, at least) a rape-incest exception and doesn’t want to ban all contraceptives (just affordable access to them!).

In that sense, Zerlina’s “just shut up” perspective is exactly right: women shouldn’t have to rely on Mitt Romney’s “compassion” or his political needs in order to maintain a very small–very small–measure of control over their own reproductive systems. It’s a shame that key elements of the MSM are buying the “moderate” label for antichoice extremists like Mitt or worse yet, buying the idea that he and other conservatives are just nice business technocrats who don’t care about “cultural issues” and are running a scam on the Bishops and the Bible-thumping rubes.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.