The Republican convention is coming up in the US, and the party is about to confirm a hardline platform that includes an extreme position on abortion (though, as pointed out by various members of the party, it is not new). The platform calls for a “right to life” amendment and makes no mention of exceptions for cases of rape or incest, a position that many voters didn’t think much about until Todd Akin’s recent comment suggesting such a need would be unnecessary. It turns out that although about half the country identifies as pro-life, over 80% support exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
The position of Todd Akin (and VP Candidate Paul Ryan) that exceptions like this are wrong is more rationally consistent, however. If abortion is literally murder, then pre-approving exceptions is surprising, and it does seem a case of punishing the child for the sins of the father. Of course, if abortion were murder, then the deaths of fetuses would deserve death certificates, which implies they’d have birth certificate, which obviously a fetus does not have – so would we then start requiring conception certificates? This notion of “pro-life” is specifically an idea of beginning citizenship before most people even tell their friends they are expecting (well, in this form of thinking, they aren’t so much “expecting” as already parents). If the claim “abortion is murder” is taken seriously, it leads to a rather severe position.
Akin’s comment was offensive on its own terms, as it showed a lack of scientific understanding and implied that a woman impregnated by rape must not really have been raped after all. But it also seemed to suggest that a woman’s body knows better than a woman’s mind which pregnancies to keep, and even that it’s okay if the body wants to abort some of them, just not if her mind chooses to do so. Beyond that it showed a complete ignorance of women’s history, as it is extremely likely that rape has been a popular method of fatherhood in many times and places. A woman with no rights does not have the right to say no. She is at the mercy of men around her who may take an interest in her wishes and respect them, but who ultimately make the choices.
But all of this is specific to his attempt to avoid the actual question of whether there ought to be an exception for rape. If only there weren’t this problem of rape, Akin’s excuse seems to say, abortion could be argued as a case of fetal life without taking note of the vessel in which the fetus develops. But the case of rape – no matter if it is uncommon – reminds us how big a deal a pregnancy is for the woman herself. If it is unfair to burden someone with an unwanted pregnancy due to rape, is it fair to ask them to accept it when it is unwanted due to birth control malfunction? If the environment and options available are exactly the same and the only difference is whether the woman was sexually interested, the consistency begins to look weak again.
Considering the widespread rejection of Akin’s comment and the broad agreement that exceptions in the case of rape should be allowed, we can determine that many pro-lifers are more interested in a general social preference than the technical details. As we saw with Palin, they might claim to “choose life” without recognizing that in choosing they are not endorsing the position as it is written. To hope women don’t have abortions – to prefer to see a movie ending with a baby rather than a procedure – is different from desiring to outlaw something or change the status of citizenship.
There is a powerful element of self-expression in voting, even though the ballots are secret. Much like those who vote for third parties, some single-issue voters aren’t necessarily hoping to cause the outcome they are voting for to be realized. Instead, their intent is making a statement that the whole country can hear. Yet, some of the proponents do wish to implement those legal changes. While they merely preach their opinion, those who take the platforms to be serious, on both sides of the issue, are concerned for real consequences.