It used to be that saying something extreme about abortion would be considered toxic, even in the Republican Party.
Remember Todd Akin? In 2012, Akin, then a Republican congressman, looked like he was all set to defeat incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. But then he started talking about something he knew nothing about ― how women get pregnant. Specifically, he talked about pregnancy caused by rape.
“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” he said. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist.”
Akin’s comments were widely denounced as ignorant and offensive ― including by members of his own party. National Republicans unsuccessfully pushed for him to drop out of the race. He then lost to McCaskill.
There was also Richard Mourdock, another 2012 GOP Senate candidate who justified opposing abortion in cases of rape, saying that if a woman becomes pregnant under those circumstances, “it’s something God intended.”
In this case, national Republicans distanced themselves from Mourdock’s comments even while many of them stood by him. He lost the Senate race.
In 2010, Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle was asked what she would say to a young girl who was raped by her father, became pregnant and was considering an abortion.
“I think that two wrongs don’t make a right,” Angle replied. “And I have been in the situation of counseling young girls, not 13 but 15, who have had very at-risk, difficult pregnancies. And my counsel was to look for some alternatives, which they did. And they found that they had made what was really a lemon situation into lemonade.”
Angle also lost her race.
But these sorts of positions are no longer outliers in the GOP. The rhetoric is not only widely embraced, but this stance of forced birth has become law in many states thanks to the Supreme Court’s conservative majority overturning Roe v. Wade.
It’s true that abortions resulting from rape and incest are a small percentage of overall abortions. And to be clear, there are no “good” or “bad” reasons for having an abortion.
But those cases often receive the most attention because they are so shocking and horrifying, especially when the victims are children themselves.
Nothing could provide a clearer example of where the Republican Party is now than the case of the 10-year-old girl in Ohio who was impregnated by her rapist and then barred from having an abortion in her own state. The girl ended up traveling to Indiana for the procedure.
First, conservatives tried to pretend that this girl didn’t exist, despite an Indiana obstetrician-gynecologist saying she had treated the girl. The Wall Street Journal even published an editorial calling it “an abortion story too good to confirm.” Fox News, of course, readily ran with the smear campaign. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) initially tweeted ― and then deleted ― that the whole thing was a “lie.”
This girl does exist, and sadly, she did go through this horrible experience. This week, a 27-year-old man was charged with raping her.
This news did not provoke much soul-searching. Republicans instead doubled-down on their position that people should be forced to give birth.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R) said he plans to investigate the doctor who provided the abortion to the 10-year-old girl, even though abortion is still legal in the state.
James Bopp, a conservative lawyer who has written model legislation encouraging states to ban abortion in all cases except to save the life of the pregnant person, said he believes the girl should have been forced to have the baby.
“She would have had the baby, and as many women who have had babies as a result of rape, we would hope that she would understand the reason and ultimately the benefit of having the child,” Bopp told Politico Tuesday.
And on Thursday, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) blocked Democratic legislation that would protect the right to travel across state lines to seek abortion services. During a civil trial deposition in 2010, Lankford reportedly took the position that 13-year-olds can consent to having sex, according to a transcript provided to the Associated Press.
Other Republican politicians, such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, have defended their state laws that provide no abortion exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
Other Republicans have tried to downplay the possibility of pregnancy from rape and incest, but that task was made harder after the nationally publicized case of the 10-year-old girl in Ohio. Some Republicans were actually shocked that a girl that age could get pregnant, underscoring that they shouldn’t be writing laws that dictate these medical choices.
Perhaps the most absurd attempt to move away from this case came Thursday from Catherine Glenn Foster, the president and CEO of Americans United for Life.
Asked about the possibility of 10-year-old girls getting raped, impregnated and then being forced to give birth, Foster eventually seemed to suggest that the girl would be able to terminate the pregnancy ― but that it wouldn’t be an abortion.
“If a 10-year-old became pregnant as a result of rape and it was threatening her life, then that’s not an abortion,” Foster said. “So it would not fall under any abortion restriction in our nation.”
It would be an abortion.
Even if some Republicans are still squeamish about saying outright that rape victims who are 10, 12, 14, 18 or whatever should be forced to give birth, that is the result of these policies that ban abortion.
Even when these exceptions for rape or incest exist, it is often incredibly difficult for pregnant people to meet the standards ― such as reporting the assault to police ― required to qualify. The Guttmacher Institute notes that they are “designed to be insurmountable and are often retraumatizing if not dangerous for the patient.”
As Guttmacher added, the best way to support rape and incest survivors is “removing abortion bans and restrictions entirely.”