On Tuesday, in defense of the near-total abortion ban in Texas, which bans abortion past six weeks’ gestation and before most people even know they’re pregnant, Texas Governor Gregg Abbott said that victims of rape and incest would be able to access abortion care in the state — as long as it was before the new six week cut-off. When asked why he was forcing victims to carry and birth pregnancies that resulted from a rape or incest, Abbott replied, “It doesn’t require that at all, because obviously it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion.”
Abbott’s either deceitful interpretation of how long a person has to get an abortion before the six week cut-off, or his obvious lack of understanding as to how pregnancy works (the first two weeks of “pregnancy” are pre-fertilization, and a person won’t miss their period, if they have normal periods, until five weeks) aside, even if the law did allow for exceptions in the case of rape or incest it would be cruel. Any law that impedes abortion care is, by design, inhumane, and allowing “exceptions” for victims sends one resounding message to people who can get pregnant: Your right to bodily autonomy only exists if and when someone has violated that same body.
Rape and incest exceptions were created in 1959 by the American Law Institute when proposing a “model abortion law.” At the time of its inception, Republicans and anti-abortion advocates denounced the idea, arguing that not only was the embryo innocent but the women claiming to be victims weren’t really victims at all. Eugene Quay, a lawyer, argued that people seeking abortion care would simply lie about being victimized, and stated that it was nearly impossible for a person to become pregnant as a result of rape. Years later, Missouri Rep. Todd Akin would regurgitate Quay’s claims, infamously telling a reporter during an interview that “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”
It wasn’t until the 80s, when Congress tried to pass an amendment that would declare there was no fundamental right to abortion care, did Republicans decide to incorporate rape and incest exceptions, though they certainly did it half-heartedly. Then-president Ronald Reagan favored the exceptions, as did the vast majority of the American public. Even the National Right To Life Committee, one of the largest anti-abortion organizations in the country, endorsed the idea. Refusing to support the exceptions turned into a game of political Russian roulette, so Republicans reluctantly acquiesced.
In a nation where one in five women and nearly one-quarter of the men will be sexually assaulted, and where out of 1,000 sexual assaults, 975 perpetrators will walk free, there’s nothing more American than telling people — predominately women — that they can only be granted full control of their bodies after someone else has harmed them. If we come forward to report our rape immediately, we’re liars. If we come forward years later, we’re attention-seeking whores with nefarious intentions.
But hey, at least we can make our own decisions about our own bodies. Sometimes.
Abortion exceptions for rape and incest are just as cruel as abortion bans themselves. They are not a kindness, but another reminder that, in the United States of America, people who can get pregnant do not have rights unless and until they have been brutally harmed.
Pregnant people deserve access to abortion care regardless of whether or not they have been raped — not just because they have. Women deserve full bodily autonomy and the right to have an abortion regardless of whether or not they’ve been victimized — not only when they have. Abortion should be easily available for anyone who wants and needs it — period.
Prior to the now growing number of abortion bans that do not allow for rape or incest exceptions, Republicans would often point to the exceptions to show that, hey, they aren’t that inhumane. They care about rape victims, after all. No, not the alleged victims of former President Donald Trump. And OK, not the women who came forward against now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh either. But the ones seeking abortion services? Sure. Sometimes.
Now they’re abandoning that facade entirely, their desire to force pregnant people to give birth far greater than their need to carry on the illusion that they’re not as cruel as they seem. But make no mistake — they’ve always been this barbarous. Any abortion ban, with an exception for rape and incest present or not, is cruel. And the cruelty has been and always will be the point.