Back in March of 2006, South Dakota State Senator Bill Napoli described the rare circumstances in which he felt an abortion might be permissible: "A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it."
Earlier this month, Senator Sam Brownback, a prominent and "legitimate" contender for the Republican presidential nomination went even further, saying, "Rape is terrible. Rape is awful. Is it made any better by killing an innocent child? Does it solve the problem for the woman that’s been raped? … We need to protect innocent life. Period."
Not That Exceptional
As shocking as these statements sound, the reality is that Brownback and Napoli’s comments are not that exceptional. Despite the fact that enough women in this country have been the victims of rape or attempted rape to more than fill the entire cities of New York and Los Angeles as well as the states of Minnesota, Alabama, Wyoming, and Utah, to this "pro-life" movement, a look at dozens of websites of the leading "pro-life" organizations, including the National Right to Life Coalition, Feminists for Life, Pro-Life America, Focus on the Family, and others, reveals that they all oppose abortion even for victims of rape.
At its core and from its inception, the "pro-life" movement has been driven forward by biblical values that insist on the domination of women by men and that women’s essential role is as breeders of children. This has been true from the days of major clinic blockades where Christian fascist groups like Operation Rescue would lead crowds to pray for god to "break the curse of independence" on women to the most recent Supreme Court ruling restricting late-term abortion that claims to be "protecting" the interests of women by forcing them to have children they may not want. These forces have been brought into the ruling structures of society on all levels–and have much initiative in implementing their program.
People need to ask themselves: what have things come to when a "legitimate" candidate for President of the US can seriously put forward such a program and it is not met with resounding outrage and opposition? And what does it mean when the debate over abortion can be framed by whether or not women who become pregnant through rape should be allowed to have an abortion? How did we get to this?
The real question in the battle around abortion is this: Will women be forced to bear children against their will? Without control over their own reproduction–without abortion on demand and without apology–women cannot be free. The movement that wants to ban abortion is not motivated by any concern for life. The fact that there is not a single "pro-life" organization in the country that upholds the right to birth control for women shows that what this movement is really all about is taking away a woman’s right to control her own reproduction.
The Deadly Path of Compromise and Ceding the Moral High Ground
This assault on women’s lives has been assisted at every point along the way by some in the "opposition" who have conceded to the moral and political terms advanced by those seeking to subjugate women and who have refused to take on the barbaric biblical literalist lunacy of the "pro-life" movement.
For years, the Democrats and way too much of the pro-choice movement have accepted the lie that there is something morally wrong with abortion. Bill Clinton implied this when he brought forward the slogan "safe, legal and rare" and Hillary Clinton took this even further when she said that abortion is a "tragic" choice. In a similar vein, many, like Planned Parenthood, have increasingly taken to defending birth control against growing attacks by arguing that it is the most effective way to prevent abortions.
Two things about this must be said. First, fetuses are NOT people. A fetus is a subordinate part of a woman’s body and has the potential to become a human being only by developing over the course of months as a subordinate part of her biological processes. Aborting a fetus is NOT murder and it is not something that should be apologized for. Abortion and birth control are absolutely necessary to women’s ability to control their own lives and destinies and as such they are liberating and very good things!
Second, too many abortions taking place is not the problem we face! 87% of counties in this country do not have any abortion access. Several states only have one abortion clinic and most of these isolated clinics are under constant siege, repeatedly bogged down in politically motivated legal reviews and restrictions. The women who seek their services confront countless legislative and financial obstacles. Due to the physical and legal threats against doctors who provide abortions and the lack of abortion training in most medical school curricula, the number of doctors trained and willing to provide abortions is shrinking. Far from needing to reduce the number of abortions, what is needed is a robust fight to dramatically extend safe and unstigmatized abortion access!
The conciliation by many in leadership of the pro-choice movement with the notion that there is something undesirable about terminating a pregnancy, and that abortion should be reduced, has had a disarming effect on this country’s pro-choice majority. It has had a devastating impact on the thinking of millions that pro-choice organizations have failed to wage an unrelenting and unapologetic battle against this ideological assault, and instead have continued to funnel their energies and resources into supporting what they insist is "the best we can hope for""Democrats who refuse to stand up against this Christian fascist juggernaut.
For example, a new documentary, Unborn in America, details many of the tactics of the anti-abortion movement (beginning, significantly, with a Focus on the Family training session discussing why abortion is wrong even in cases of rape). What was striking, and heartbreakingly frustrating, in watching this film was both the level of widespread rage among the people against the assaults on women’s reproductive freedom and the lack of any coherent ideological or political opposition to these assaults. Over and over again, pro-choice people were shown confronting the anti-abortion activists with tremendous anger and disgust, but over and over again they themselves acknowledged they think abortion is something that should be avoided and reduced.
The nightmarish impact of this conciliatory trajectory on people’s lives can be seen starkly in the Democrats’ refusal to filibuster the appointments of either Justices Roberts or Alito last year. The result has been a recent draconian ruling by the Supreme Court upholding a ban on a procedure dishonestly called "Partial Birth Abortion," criminalizing a procedure that reduces pain, risk of complications, and even death for women having abortions. Justice Kennedy enshrined much of the logic that views women primarily as breeders into legal precedent when he wrote, for the majority, that the state has an interest in fostering a "respect for life," and that "Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond the mother has for her child." This decision will certainly cause some women to die for lack of the necessary medical procedure and lay the basis for sending the doctors who try to help them to jail. Even more ominously, it has laid the basis for further moves to elevate the "rights of the fetus" as equal to or above those of women. In a very real way, this decision is a big step towards bringing into being the kind of Bible-inspired future Brownback and Napoli are advocating.
What About What the Bible Says?
The Bible (and the Koran, the Torah, and other major religious works) present creation myths that reflect both people’s ignorance at the time of how humans evolved, and the interests of a rising exploitive class that embedded patriarchy (the domination of women and the family by men) into the structures and culture of society. In other words, what the Bible says is reactionary and oppressive, and it’s not true. The moral code in the Bible (and other major religious texts) reflects (and enforces) the way that society was organized at the time, with widespread slavery and extreme oppression of women.
The Bible blames women for the "fall of man," claiming Eve lured Adam into biting the forbidden fruit and thus getting cast out of the mythical Garden of Eden. As punishment for this alleged wickedness, "god" decides to make child-birth excruciatingly painful and to insist that a woman’s "husbandwill rule over her." (Genesis 3:16) Later, in 1 Timothy 2:14-15 the Bible explains the way for a woman to be redeemed for having committed the original sin is "through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." In this way, the Bible insists that women’s particularly sinful nature necessitates their tight domination by men and enshrines child-bearing as the most essential and god-ordained role for women. Flowing from this, anything a woman does to control her own body, her own sexuality, or her own reproduction is a violation of god’s will.
On the other hand, all kinds of things done by men–including brutal and violent things–to control the lives, sexuality, and reproduction of women are not only upheld but insisted on in the Bible. (See Numbers 31:7-18 or Deuteronomy 20:10-14, for instance, for examples of rape being commanded as a tool of war.)
This view of women is at the core of the anti-abortion movement and this is why, for all their many faces and all their shifting angles of attack, the movement to end abortion has increasingly brought people like Brownback and Napoli into the mainstream.
Two Fundamentally Opposed Views on Women
There is absolutely no reason to seek any kind of compromise with anti-abortion forces or to accommodate in any way with their exaltation of traditional values. Instead, what is needed is an uncompromising and unapologetic repudiation and rejection of this framework
Either we will live in a society centered on the idea, and corresponding laws, that women’s fundamental role is that of breeders of children and the property of men, together with all the attendant brutality, degradation, shame and rape–OR–we will fight to create a society in which women are recognized as full and equal human beings in every regard, free to play a full role in engaging in all realms of life, and revolutionizing society–not being "mommies first." This kind of society requires that women have complete control over their own reproduction and lays the basis for putting an end to the oppression of women, including the epidemic of rape.
Having children, when it is planned and wanted, can bring a lot of joy. But being forced, pressured or shamed into having a child is a form of forcible control over a woman’s body and life that is no less oppressive than rape.
In today’s situation, it is not enough to profess opposition to the most extreme wing of the anti-abortion movement. One must go on the political, ideological and practical offensive against the whole package of biblical-literalist and traditional values–together with waging an uncompromising struggle for abortion and birth control on demand.
And a whole different, liberating vision of a society where the chains that bind women are shattered, where women and men relate with equality and mutual respect, and where together we set out to put an end to all forms of injustice and exploitation must be brought forward and fought for.