I considered writing a post when Congressman Todd Akin’s infamous remarks became a scandal. But I thought the furor would die down as soon as some other politician made another dumb remark (which happens with some frequency), and I didn’t see the point in writing about a news story so ephemeral. Months afterwards, however, I still read editorials arguing that Akin’s remarks discredits the entire pro-life and conservative movement. It seems the subject still requires some attention from pro-lifers, so I am going to add my opinion, as unpopular as it may be.
Akin was incorrect and insensitive when he claimed that the female body can magically reject a rapist’s sperm. I think everybody–even Akin himself–acknowledges that his comments were wrong. Somewhere in his remarks, however, lies a kernel of truth, which is that abortion in cases of rape is very rare–not impossible, but rare. A survey from the Guttmacher Institute–a pro-choice research institution affiliated with Planned Parenthood–found that only 1% of women seeking abortion in the United States were doing so because of rape. Since the data was self-reported and didn’t require respondents to show evidence that they had been raped, it is unlikely that rape was under-reported in this survey. Therefore, the 1% statistic seems valid.
The rarity of pregnancy-by-rape makes sense when you consider the fact that women are infertile more often than not. Post-menopausal women, women on birth control, women who are already pregnant, breastfeeding women, girls who are too young to be menstruating regularly, women with fertility problems, plus women who don’t happen to be in their monthly “fertile window” (which consists of only a few days), are not going to get pregnant even if raped. Since rape tends to be a random and one-time occurrence, the odds of a rapist (as opposed to a long-term partner) catching one of these fertile windows are probably low.
Hence I am not surprised that 99% of abortions in this country are the outcome of consensual sex. And yet, pro-choice rhetoric implies that nearly all women seeking abortion are doing so because of rape, and that restricting their access to abortion in any way is tantamount to raping them all over again.
By pointing out the small numbers of pregnant rape victims, I am in no way trying to belittle their experiences. Every single person is infinitely precious, and therefore her suffering matters regardless of its statistical frequency. But, in order to find the most compassionate attitude towards pregnant rape victims, we must first stop exploiting them for political gain, which is what pro-choicers do every time they use sympathy for rape victims in order to claim political privileges for non-rape-victims. In order to find the most compassionate treatment for rape victims, we need to confront the realities of abortion. We can only advise rape victims on the best path if we are honest about what abortion actually is.
Surprisingly, one of the best descriptions of the abortion experience can be found in a feminist anthology called Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation. The author, Inga Muscio, opens the piece by radically declaring that “abortion sucks”:
“Abortion Sucks” is a literal statement, made in reference to the machine employed in ridding a woman of her unwanted pregnancy. This machine is a vacuum cleaner . . . . Vacuum cleaners are useful for cleaning up messes, and in our society, a pile of kitty litter on the floor is treated much in the same way as an undesired embryo. The main difference, though hardly recognizable to Western science, is that kitty litter is sucked from cold linoleum and an embryo is sucked from a warm-blooded living being’s womb. (112)
Her jaundiced views of abortion stem from personal experience. This is her description of the abortions she received at Planned Parenthood:
The lady [nurse] told me to recite my ABCs.
“A, B, C, D, E . . . ” Something entered my vagina, deeper, deeper, deeper than I imagined anything could go.
“F, G, H, I, O, W . . . ” The walls of my uterus were being sucked, felt like they were gonna cave in. I screamed “O, P, X, X, VOWELS, WHAT ARE THE VOWELS? R? K? A! A’s A VOWEL!” And then my organs were surely being mowed down by a tiny battalion of Lawn-Boys.
“S, did I say S?” My boyfriend was crying too and didn’t tell me whether I had said S or not.
There was a two-inch thick pad between my legs, and blood gushing out of me. The motor had stopped whirring. I felt delirious. I asked, “What do you guys do with all the fetuses? Where do they go? Do you bury them?” The lady ignored me, which was fine; I had to puke. She led me into a bathroom, and I vomited bilious green foam.
For two weeks, there was a gaping wound in my body. I could hardly walk for five days. (113-114)
As a good feminist, Muscio cannot bring herself to question the principles behind the pro-choice movement. She merely disagrees with the methods of clinical abortion, the unpleasantness of which she attributes to the patriarchal dynamics of Western medicine. For her third abortion, she seeks out herbal and natural methods, which she portrays as a beautiful and even spiritual experience. However, some of her comments imply that even these methods are not without their flaws:
I looked at the bathroom floor and there, between my feet, was some blood and a little round thing. It was clear but felt like one of those unshiny Super Balls. It was the neatest thing I ever did see. An orb of life and energy, in my hand.
So real. (116)
An orb of life . . . except that it was dead. Because she killed it. Which, based on her next statement, seems to be a fact that haunted her even as she claimed to feel relief: “I wore black for a week and had a little funeral in my head” (116).
Even by feminists’ own admission, then, abortion is a violent and painful act perpetuated against the natural integrity of a woman’s body (as well as the natural integrity of the fetus, an orb of life and energy). If that’s how the true feminist believers describe their abortions, then how much more would an average woman, with no prior stake in the pro-choice movement, suffer from regret and guilt about having taken a life?
I don’t deny the painful realities of pregnancy and childbirth. I gave birth with no pain relief and in some rather unpleasant circumstances–and yet, I would rather endure childbirth ten times over then experience any of the abortions described by Muscio, even the supposedly pain-free herbal one. At least childbirth is natural to the design of our bodies–unlike a vacuum cleaner or poisonous herbs, which sound like they would merely be an additional violation of a woman’s body after she had already been raped.
In all the furor over Akin’s comments, then, we’ve lost sight of some more subtle truths: for instance, that pregnancy after rape is an unfortunate but rare experience; that exploiting rape for political gain is despicable; and, most importantly, that pretending abortion can erase the pain of rape is not the most compassionate way to treat rape victims.