Rape Exceptions and the Strategic Dishonesty of the Antichoice Movement

At Vox today Sarah Kliff patiently explains to people who don’t follow the politics of reproductive rights all the time why the “rape” issue keeps coming up among Republican pols in the context of hypothetical bans on abortion:

Most Americans think abortion should be legal in cases of rape, and the pro-life movement itself is divided on the issue.

The core pro-life movement sees rape exemptions as antithetical to their beliefs: that abortion is immoral, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the conception.

Now when Kliff says antichoice folk are “divided” on rape exceptions, it should be added that they are divided on strategic, not philosophical grounds. I’ve never met or heard or read a RTLer who believed abortion should ever be legal or illegal because of the circumstances of a conception. Many do (and some don’t) favor allowing abortion if the mother’s life is at stake, but that’s because life is being weighed against life. But some do think it’s acceptable as a strategic matter to support legislation with rape or incest exceptions, just as they think it’s okay to promote legislation that bans only late-term abortions, which they personally consider no less objectionable than using an IUD during sex. These are not stupid people, and their “long game” is to chip away at reproductive rights bit by bit, incrementally, where public opinion allows it. That means accepting rape/incest exceptions. But they don’t feel good about it, and they have a hard time rationalizing it with their beliefs, so now and then the exception gets shaved and the gaffe gets committed.

Besides, while I often admire the consistency and dedication of these folk, it’s also true they’ve long accepted dishonesty as a necessary evil in promoting their cause–a cause which an awful lot of them liken to resistance to Adolph Hitler. We’ve had years and years of crocodile tears from RTLers about the relatively tiny number of late-term abortions that are performed, as though they are particularly objectionable, and as though RTLers would for a moment relax if they were all banned. And more recently we’ve seen the whole “supply-side” approach to restricting abortions by going after providers on entirely specious grounds of “protecting women’s health.”

But for all the discipline and experience of the antichoice cause, they cannot keep everyone in their ranks from telling the truth about what they really believe and what they really want. And so inevitably someone tries to narrow the “rape” exception, and the game is up.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.