On the callousness of the American right

A couple of days ago, the Republican Senate hopeful Todd Akin claimed that women who suffer what he called "legitimate rape" would not become pregnant because their bodies would "shut down", and therefore argued that abortion after rape should not receive Federal funding. Not surprisingly, there was a worldwide storm of outrage: there were calls for him to withdraw from the Senate election race and calls for him to be sacked from the Republican committee on Science, Space and Technology. The Republican Presidential candidacy duo, Romney and Ryan, distanced themselves from Akin's claims and insisted that they supported abortion after rape.

Romney has indeed in the past been a supporter of the Roe v Wade legislation that legalised abortion in the US, although in recent years his position has hardened and like most right-wingers he now argues that abortion should only be available to victims of rape or incest and where the mother's life is in danger. Paul Ryan, though, is an entirely different matter, and his failure to support Akin looks very much like treachery. Like Akin, he was one of the original sponsors of the "No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion" Act, which in its original form sought to restrict Federal funding for post-rape abortions to so-called "forcible" rape. Akin did not define what he meant by "legitimate rape", but since his remarks clearly indicated his belief that trauma would cause the body to shut down, preventing pregnancy, it is reasonable to suppose that he meant rape achieved through the use of force - in other words, "forcible" rape. So in distancing himself from Akin's remarks, Ryan, it seems, has changed his tune. Now that wouldn't have anything to do with his selection as Romney's running-mate, would it? Women have votes too, after all. A very hard line on abortion might be costly for Republican presidential chances.

But leaving aside Ryan's well-timed abandonment of his principles, where does this very hard line on abortion come from? Is Akin alone? Hardly. In fact his belief that abortion after rape should be outlawed is quite common among American Christian right-wingers - and it is heavily promoted by fundamentalist Christian preachers and writers. Some claim to provide medical evidence that pregnancy after "forcible rape" or "assault rape" is extremely rare. It is, but that is because rape that meets their definition - violent assault by a stranger - is also extremely rare, not because it is somehow qualitatively different from any other sort of rape. Now, many Christians would object to abortion on demand, but would regard abortion after rape or incest as a Christian compassionate response to a distressed woman. By redefining "rape" as violent assault by a stranger, and then producing medical "experts" to argue that under those circumstances the chance of pregnancy is vanishingly small, these Christian right-wingers are setting the stage for the complete outlawing of abortion on the grounds of rape. If the vast majority of rapes aren't really rape, and pregnancy after forcible rape doesn't really happen, then there will hardly be any need for abortion on those grounds anyway, will there?

They then muddy the waters by conflating the rights of the unborn with prosecution of the perpetrator. Akin and Ryan both say (correctly) that the rapist should be brought to justice, but they argue that this should be instead of "punishing" the child through abortion. This is a false argument. Bringing the rapist to justice has to happen whatever the future of the child. The choice is between punishing the MOTHER or the child, if the mother does not wish to bear the child that has been forced on her. Both parties are innocent. It is a truly horrible choice.

Some American Christian fundamentalists go even further and oppose abortion after ANY rape, including violent assault. They do this on the basis of the child's right to life and its future potential. Mick Huckabee explained how great things have been done by people who were born as a consequence of violent rape. And Sharon Barnes described the "blessing" of pregnancy after violent rape. But the future of the child is a red herring as far as the present life of the woman is concerned, and the idea that a child is worth saving because of its potential usefulness is dangerously utilitarian. I've complained before about the consequences of valuing humans only in terms of their contribution to society. To me as a Christian, a human being is of value simply because they exist.

Which brings me to the real Christian dilemma in all of this. The absolute belief of the American Christian fundamentalists in the sanctity of life for the unborn leads them to display shocking callousness towards women. Like them, I consider abortion barbarous. I am angry about the social circumstances that leave women in a position where they feel they have no other choice. I feel the pain of the women who make the difficult choice to terminate their pregnancies. And I grieve for the children who will never be born. But if the social circumstances were different, those children would never have existed. If men did not commit rape, women would not become pregnant from rape. In some cases, a woman may choose to bear the child forced upon her, and she may indeed see that child as a blessing. But it is going too far to insist that women MUST see children conceived through rape as "blessings" and therefore be denied abortion if that is their choice.

For what is missing from the American right wing's argument is any concern for the life, health and wellbeing of the women concerned. Where is the financial support which would enable those women who wish to bring their rape-conceived children into the world to do so without ending up in penury? Where is the love and care for unmarried women with children in fundamentalist Christian churches? I don't see it. And until  fundamentalist Christians learn to love and care for women who are the victims of male sexual violence,  support them through the difficult choices they must make, and work to change the social values that result in men believing they can rape with impunity, their Christianity is a hollow sham.


  1. Extremely well said, even from a non-Christian perspective.


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