On Rape And Pregnancy

I did not watch, read, or listen to the news for over a week, as I was busy getting married on the beach, going on a mini-honeymoon in Santa Barbara, and then performing dance for 4 days straight at one of the largest gaming conventions in the country. Beyond the chores of unpacking and laundry and scraping glitter off everything, all I wanted to do was sleep and recover.

And then I came home to this. “This” being Representative Todd Akin’s comments about how in regard to the possibility of pregnancy after rape, in his understanding, ”if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Far more bloggers than I can count have protested the idiocy behind these remarks, and pointed out the irony that a member of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology would be so ill informed. Multitudes of people have passed along quotes, links, and infographics on Facebook. These are good things, to be aware of hypocrisy in politics and thus able to make informed choices about who to vote for.

However, I’d like to offer a few more observations. First, the best way to combat ignorance is with knowledge, as Kate Clancy does with her run-down of scholarship on the rates of pregnancy from both rape and consensual sex, as well as how miscarriages tend to work when under stress (such as, possibly, the stress of having just been raped). This is fascinating stuff, and I urge everyone to read it. Go science!

Next, it is important to acknowledge that the diversity of women’s experiences of rape and pregnancy have profound impacts upon their lives. I recommend reading this very brave (but also potentially triggering) letter to Akins by  Shauna Prewitt, a woman who got pregnant from rape – and how that affected her coping mechanisms and changed her life. Women respond to trauma in totally diverse ways, and thus they need to have multiple options available to them. Abortion is not an option that should be chosen lightly, but it still needs to be available (hence legal).

Further, the legal ramifications of rape cases are stunning: Prewitt learned, while attending law school, that in “the vast majority of states, a rapist has the same custody and visitation rights to a child born through his crime as other fathers enjoy.” How is this not being discussed when limiting access to abortions is on the table? Do the majority of voters even know that if they vote to restrict abortion rights even for rape cases, they are essentially voting to force a survivor who bears a child to interact with her rapist, and let her child interact with the rapist?

Finally, I think that while this is an incredibly important topic, it is also a damaging one. As Clancy points out in her article I linked to above: “Rape reminds me of the ways in which I am powerless, simply by being female. It doesn’t matter how many contact sports I play or muscles I build. It doesn’t matter how big my husband is. Sometimes I look at my life, and see what I’ve built, and how I’ve tried to protect myself. And I wonder what measures other women have taken for the same reasons, measures that ultimately mean little in the face of cultural conditioning to make men happy, of sexual dimorphism in musculature, of a powerful rape culture.”

We need to talk about this in order to take steps toward fixing it. Silence is, as numerous feminists have pointed out, a tactic used in rape culture to keep victims ashamed and powerless. But talking about these issues is painful, and every time we have to talk about them to try to remedy them, it hurts, whether from memory or vicariously or simply being reminded that even if you haven’t been raped, women you know have been, and will be. I wish I had more to contribute here, but that’s about all I can muster. I wish I didn’t have to talk about these things, and that I could retreat back to my honeymoon without a care in the world, but unfortunately that’s not gonna happen.

Stay informed, people. That’s one step in the fight against misinformed politicians making decisions that impact your lives.

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About Jeana

Jeana

Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.