"Humanizing" Rape and Abortion

Magazine: the Body Politic
Issue: February, 1994
Title: "Humanizing" Rape and Abortion
Author: Bruce S. Ticker

She was raped by her father. She became pregnant. "She said there was no way she wanted the baby," recalled her mother.

The daughter, who was 15 at the time, had a miscarriage.

The legislature in this teenager's state, which is Pennsylvania, must have thought itself generous when it exempted her from seeking her father's consent for an abortion.

Pennsylvania's controversial Abortion Control Act, which lead to the Supreme Court's decision in Casey, when it finally goes into effect, allows a girl under 18 to obtain only the consent of her mother if her father impregnated her. How generous! This, in my mind, is a sample of just how callous politicians are when it comes to helping rape victims.

Rape and abortion are two of the most volatile issues confronting society at this time, and there are uncomfortable instances where rape and abortion come together.

Government is consistently insensitive to rape victims. The apathetic attitude of politicians is especially glaring when they deal with abortion. A prime example is the federal Hyde Amendment. Until this year, Congress used the Hyde Amendment to deny federal funding for abortion for most poor women. On top of that, are state laws aimed at restricting abortion by mandating parental consent or notification before a teen can get an abortion. Some states have even tried spousal consent laws.

Both these legislative efforts have not always accounted for rape victims, and even when the lawmakers did, they still betrayed their ignorance.

Abortion might be a debatable matter, but there is nothing to debate about what rape does to human beings. I have known too many women who were traumatized by sexual violence. It ruined their lives. It also affected people who were close to them. Some of them were my friends.

This past year's vote on the Hyde Amendment represents a significant, if far from complete, victory for women and men concerned about sexual violence. The federal government will now pay for abortion for poor women who were raped or victimized by incest. That is critically important. Poor women who never had a choice in any sense of the word can now obtain abortions.

Of course, anyone who believes in the right to choose between birth and abortion would want full coverage for poor women. What's shocking is the absence of any clause to take care of rape survivors for the previous 16 years of the Hyde Amendment's existence. Many members of Congress are against abortion and pressured by the anti-abortion lobbyists. Why now would they agree to cover rape victims?

The only explanation which makes sense to me is - what else - politics.

Congress has traditionally been lobbied to death by people on both sides of the issue. The past year saw key differences with a pro-choice president. Members of Congress now understand that abortion-rights activists have more clout than they did a year ago, and President Clinton might have pressured Congress to expand funding of abortion.

Paying for abortions of rape and incest victims was a natural compromise. The lawmakers could rationalize their votes by telling both side that this measure was enacted to help victims. Besides, if health-care reform which includes abortion coverage ever passes, lawmakers can have it both ways.

They can tell pro-choice supporters that health-care reform undoes the Hyde Amendment. Then they can remind the anti-abortion side they voted for the Hyde Amendment, but the pressure for health-care reform was so overwhelming they couldn't control the clause permitting abortion funding.

This still begs the question. The pro-choice camp says, if we fund abortions in some cases, why not all? The anti-abortion line is, a child is a child. Was it the child's fault that he or she was conceived by a rapist?

Of course, when it comes to rape, states can be just as callous as the federal government. Pennsylvania's Abortion Control Act requires that a female under 18 seeking an abortion have the signed consent of at least one parent or that of a judge. The law originally required that a married woman seeking an abortion notify her husband.

What isn't commonly know is that a pregnant teen can forgo consent of her father if he impregnated her. (Wives were not required to notify husbands if they reported to police the pregnancy resulted from spousal sexual assault.) Who makes up these laws?

One of the original sponsors of the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act was former state Representative, Stephen Freind. He felt that the issue of rape and abortion need not be mixed together. Rep. Freind went so far as to say in a radio interview that rape victims generally can't become pregnant because their bodies secret a substance to stop impregnation. This opinion was based on some obscure medical theory which the theory's creator said had been distorted by Rep. Freind.

Who thinks a woman should bear a rapist's child? A spokeswoman for Feminists for Life asserted in a documentary film that rape victims should follow through with their pregnancies.

Would both of these activists really stick to their ideals if a family member got pregnant from rape? Mr. Friend can't have a child. Would the woman from Feminists for Life really bear a child conceived in rape?

Some might think the state legislature was very considerate of extenuating circumstances. I don't. The Pennsylvania Abortion control Act is still tied up in court action, but when it goes into effect, pregnant teens unable to talk to their parents will have to get permission from a judge. Which one? The judge in a western Philadelphia suburb who declared his opposition to abortion then conducted himself in a questionable manner when presiding over two abortion-related cases?

Even when the judge strives to be fair, what qualifies him or her to rule on such a personal matter? I can see some form of adult guidance for teens facing abortion, but it would allow much more leeway than the Pennsylvania legislature had in mind. I imagine that a pregnant teen would probably appreciate all the intelligent guidance she could get. The information should show her all her options, but in the end, the law would allow the teen to make the final decision. Politics should not rule rape.

Bruce S. Ticker is a Philadelphia writer who is researching a book on the impact of sexual violence on society.
Go Back to Shy David's Abortion Page.