The 2012 election season included a series of remarks from conservative politicians about rape in relation to ongoing controversies over abortion in the U.S. The best-known comments were those made by former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, who claimed that "legitimate" rape would trigger natural defenses in women’s bodies against pregnancy, and Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who said a pregnancy resulting from rape was something "God intended to happen."
Both men lost their elections, but their comments influenced a rise in activism against exceptions to abortion bans. A group called Save the 1 formed in January to call on politicians to fight exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape in state abortion laws. The group’s name refers to Matthew 18:10-14, a parable in which the shepherd turns back to save the single sheep that became lost.
Save the 1 considers abortions of pregnancies resulting from rape to have no higher moral ground than any other abortions, and believes the willingness of conservative politicians to allow legal access to abortions in these cases to be a neglect of moral duty.
The likelihood that Save the 1 will succeed in its goal to ban abortion even in cases of rape, however, is small. Only 25% of Americans would go so far as to deny abortion to a woman who was impregnated via nonconsensual sex.
The lack of support on this issue was made clear when New Mexico Rep. Cathrynn Brown introduced a bill on January 24 that would criminalize abortions of pregnancies resulting from rape as tampering with evidence. The bill was obviously a below-the-belt move by Brown, who is endorsed by a right-to-life group, to limit women's access to abortions in New Mexico especially as fetuses are rarely, if ever, used as evidence of sexual assault.
New Mexico residents immediately expressed outrage, causing Brown to revamp the language of the bill so that it did not target survivors of sexual assault, but rather rapists who might force an abortion on their victims to destroy evidence of their crime.
The New Mexico bill appeared on the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, in which it was ruled that restricting a woman’s access to an abortion, even of pregnancies not posing a risk to a woman’s health nor resulting from rape, was a violation of the plaintiff’s constitutional right to privacy.
In spite of the lack of support for removing these exceptions from law, the continuing prominence of the debate in recent months indicates that the assault on women's rights from social conservatives is far from over. It is a travesty that people would be willing to subject survivors of sexual assault to the continued trauma of having to carry a pregnancy resulting from rape to term if they wished to terminate it. Of course, not all in this situation would make the choice to have an abortion — but choice is the key word here. Trapping women in unwanted abortions is not merely traumatizing, it is a continuation of the systematic oppression of more than half of the world's population.