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Amanda Marcotte: When Will Republicans Stop Saying Dumb Things About Rape? (Hint: When They Stop Hating Women)

May 27, 2011

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Glib comments about rape by anti-choice Republican lawmakers reveal that the anti-choice movement is deeply rooted in antagonism to women’s rights.

By **Amanda Marcotte**

By arrangement with Alternet.Org.

No big surprise that it was in Kansas, which has struggled with the most serious anti-choice terrorism in the country in the 21st century, where a GOP state legislator named Pete DeGraaf compared being forcibly impregnated by a rapist to getting a flat tire. DeGraaf was responding to a pro-choice Republican legislator who raised the question of women being unable to afford to terminate pregnancies caused by rape, and DeGraaf responded by suggesting women should have prepared ahead of time for rape by saying, “We do need to plan ahead, don’t we, in life?,” adding, “I have a spare tire on my car.”

DeGraaf’s glib response to his pro-choice colleague demonstrated the deeply misogynist underpinnings of anti-choice beliefs. Let us count the various misogynist beliefs exposed by this comment, which is sadly quite typical of the mindless sexism espoused by anti-choicers.  

The belief that rape is no big deal. DeGraaf is far from the only anti-choicer who has exhibited this callousness towards rape victims. In fact, callousness towards rape victims that belies an underlying misogyny is a regular feature of anti-choice rhetoric: 

    •During the midterm campaign season, the GOP challenger for Harry Reid’s seat, Sharron

     Angle, advised rape victims to avoid abortion, saying they could turn “lemon situation into


Noticeably, the “you brought it on yourself” argument doesn’t apply to diseases men can get, such as smoking-induced lung cancer or gluttony-induced diabetes. 

    •Idaho state representative Brent Crane supported a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks, saying

     that rape was the “hand of the Almighty” at work, and that women forced to bear the children

     of rapists are “wonderful examples.”

    •Indiana state legislator Eric Turner went with the women-are-liars argument, arguing against

     rape exceptions for a post-20 week ban on the grounds that women will wait around for 5

     months to get an abortion and then claim, falsely, to have been raped to get one.

    •South Dakota legislator Bill Napoli declared that a rape victim only deserved an abortion if

     she were religious, virginal, beaten within an inch of her life, and added that the rape should

     include anal rape for good measure. 

The belief that women are stupid children.

DeGraaf’s chuckling assumption that a woman who is raped and unable to pay for an abortion has only herself to blame for lack of foresight betrays a larger view of women as overgrown children who only get into trouble because they don’t know any better. DeGraaf argues that women wouldn’t buy entirely separate insurance just for abortion because they’re stupid, but in fact, the expectation of a separate abortion policy is what makes no sense.  Insurance policies generally cover a whole range of possible misfortunes.  You don’t have to buy a separate policy to cover burglaries and to cover fires; both are bundled into your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance.  Subsequently, women are reasonable to expect that the same policies that cover you when you accidentally fall down the stairs should cover you when you accidentally fall pregnant. DeGraaf’s completely backwards reading of the situation—turning women’s entirely reasonable expectations into evidence of their stupidity—betrays a deeply held prejudice about women’s basic intelligence. 

The idea that women are stupid drives many anti-choice initiatives.  For instance, laws requiring women to look at ultrasounds before getting abortions carry the assumption that women are literally too stupid to understand that abortion terminates pregnancy. In real life, of course, women seek abortion because it terminates pregnancy, and aren’t going to be surprised when the doctor says, “And there’s the embryo that we’ll be removing so you won’t be having a baby.”

The belief that women aren’t really the same thing as people.

Anti-choicers have always worked to define health care that addresses only women’s concerns as not being “real” health care, unlike men’s health care.  The most prominent example of this is the Hyde Amendment, which excludes abortion from being covered by Medicaid on the claim that pregnancy isn’t a medical condition and therefore terminating it doesn’t count as medical care.

But pregnancy termination is far from the only female-only condition that anti-choicers have worked to define as not-counting because it only affects those born with female reproductive systems. A common argument, floated by the Catholic bishops, is that because pregnancy is natural, preventing it isn’t medical care. Anti-choicers such as Bill O’Reilly and John McCain have even gone far enough to claim that treating erectile dysfunction is medical care in a way that preventing pregnancy isn’t, even though erectile dysfunction is also natural and has far fewer side effects than pregnancy.  The category of medical conditions that don’t count because they only happen to women has expanded to incorporate cervical cancer, as anti-choicers agitate against the HPV vaccine that prevents the disease on the grounds that women who die of cervical cancer brought it upon themselves by not abstaining from sex. 

For instance, laws requiring women to look at ultrasounds before getting abortions carry the assumption that women are literally too stupid to understand that abortion terminates pregnancy.

Noticeably, the “you brought it on yourself” argument doesn’t apply to diseases men can get, such as smoking-induced lung cancer or gluttony-induced diabetes.  It’s only female-only conditions such as pregnancy and cervical cancer where patients can have medical care revoked on the grounds of behavioral choices. 

Now that’s being expanded to conditions—such as rape-induced pregnancy—where the patient’s injuries, by definition, are not her fault.  But, as DeGraaf’s metaphor made clear, anti-choicers don’t view women’s medical conditions as actual medical conditions that occur to real people.  Women are treated like objects such as cars, and their medical conditions are seen more like flat tires than health care concerns.   

The lesson of all should be that we cannot expect the anti-choice movement to be content with restricting abortion.  It’s a movement deeply rooted in antagonism to women’s rights, and not just the right to terminate unwanted pregnancies.  Women’s right to be free from violence, to have female-specific medical care treated like actual medical care, and to be treated like full human adults with the right to make decisions for ourselves?  All of these hard-won rights are under assault.  Abortion is just the first battle in what could end up being a long war to reverse the gains of feminism.

Copyright 2011 Amanda Marcotte


By arrangement with Alternet.Org.

Amanda Marcotte co-writes the blog Pandagon. She is the author of It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.

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