CREDIT: Sarah Conard/Reuters
Americans overwhelmingly favor legal abortion access for victims of sexual assault. But their lawmakers are consistently refusing to enact policies in line with that.
According to an analysis conducted by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), more than 70 percent of the new abortion restrictions enacted in the first half of 2013 don’t include any kind of exemption for pregnancies that result from rape. And state lawmakers proposed even more measures to limit rape victims’ abortion access that didn’t make it into law — the NWLC’s report finds that 86 percent of the anti-abortion bills proposed during the same time period didn’t have a rape exception.
U.S. Congress didn’t have a much better record during the first six months of the year. Seventy two percent of the bills proposed on a national level would have restricted abortion access even for rape victims.
The anti-abortion measures that apply to rape victims range from forcing a woman who has become pregnant from sexual assault to carry the pregnancy to term; to requiring her to look at an ultrasound of the fetus and listen to a fetal heartbeat; to banning her from using her own insurance coverage to pay for an abortion; to allowing hospitals to deny her abortion care.
And the decision to omit a rape exception was certainly intentional in some states. One anti-abortion measure introduced in Mississippi stated: “The State of Mississippi shall not punish the crime of sexual assault with the death penalty, and neither shall persons conceived through a sexual assault be punished with the loss of his or her life.”
The organization surveyed state-level and national legislation between January and May, so their data isn’t comprehensive for the entire year. But many state legislatures concluded their sessions at the beginning of the summer and slowed down their flurry of anti-choice proposals (with a few notable exceptions).
Over the past year, abortion opponents have incited considerable controversy by making callous statements about rape victims. A year ago, former Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) asserted that women don’t often get pregnant from rape because the female body “has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Since then, Republican politicians have suggested that pregnancies from rape are a “gift from God,” mocked rape exceptions as “little gotcha amendments,” and suggested abortion access for rape victims is unnecessary because ending a pregnancy will “put more violence on a woman’s body.” At least five GOP candidates who made insensitive comments about rape and abortion lost their seats in the 2012 election. The political firestorm became such a problem for the GOP that House Republicans ended up attending training programs to learn how to better talk about rape.
However, that training hasn’t translated into policy action. Even in rare cases when anti-abortion legislation does include a provision to ensure that rape victims will be able to access reproductive health care, the stringent guidelines can pose obstacles that render the exception meaningless. Rape victims are often required to report the crime — in some cases, within the first 48 hours — and provide specific details about their assailant to law enforcement. One Indiana bill introduced this year would have even required survivors of sexual assault to get the crime “verified” in order to access abortion care.
NWLC only considered abortion-related measures that could have included a specific exception for victims of sexual assault. That means the organization’s report doesn’t include any of the legislation that indirectly impacts women’s abortion access, like laws imposing harsh regulations on abortion clinics that will force them to close. When taking into account the comprehensive landscape of abortion restrictions, state legislatures proposed more than 300 measures intended to limit access to abortion in the first half of the year — making 2013 one of the worst years for reproductive freedom in recent history.