Reproductive rights and the Republican primary

Posted on 31 January 2012


The extreme wing of the Republican Party wants to pass a law that would deprive women of their personhood.

Rose Aguilar
27 Jan 2012

According to Medical Students for Choice, even though abortion is legal in the US, 87 per cent of all counties and 98 per cent of all rural counties have no abortion providers [GALLO/GETTY]

San Francisco, CA – As we mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision recognising a woman’s constitutional right to have a safe and legal abortion, the Republicans running for their party’s presidential nomination, all men, are competing to prove who would be the most dangerous candidate for women.

Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania have all taken the most extreme position on abortion by signing Personhood USA’s so-called Personhood Pledge, promising to support a “human life amendment to the constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th amendment protections apply to unborn children.””I pledge to the American people that I will defend all innocent human life. Abortion and the intentional killing of an innocent human being are always wrong and should be prohibited. If elected president, I will work to advance state and federal laws and amendments that recognise the unalienable right to life of all human beings as persons at every stage of development, and to the best of my knowledge, I will only appoint federal judges and relevant officials who will uphold and enforce state and federal laws recognising that all human beings at every stage of development are persons with the unalienable right to life.”

By signing Personhood USA’s pledge, these men are stating their opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. After going through a “transformation”, Texas Governor Rick Perry also signed the pledge, before dropping out of the race.

Congressman Paul believes Roe was “one of the most disastrous rulings of this century”, and abortion “leads to euthanasia”. The signing statement he added to his pledge says: “To summarize my views – I believe the federal government has a role to play. I believe Roe v Wade should be repealed. I believe federal law should declare that life begins at conception. And I believe states should regulate the enforcement of this law, as they do other laws against violence.”

At a January 3 townhall meeting in Iowa, Gingrich said he “wouldn’t make exceptions” for rape and incest. “What I would try to do is create a program that would enable women in those circumstances to have support and help them through whatever process they needed both in terms of counseling and in terms of if they wanted to give up the baby for adoption,” he said.

In an interview on CNN’s Piers Morgan show on January 20, Santorum called a child conceived through rape a “gift of human life”. He said rape victims should “accept what God” has given them.

If your sister, daughter, or best female friend is raped by a relative, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich believe she should be forced to carry the pregnancy to term. In his book, Liberty Defined, Congressman Paul writes: “Victims of rape can be treated with the day after pill, which is nothing more than using birth control pills in a special manner.” What if they’re not available? What if they don’t work? This should frighten and enrage us all.

Nearly one in five women in the US have been raped at least once, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 Sexual Violence Survey. Almost 80 percent of female victims were raped before age 25 and more than half were raped by a current or former partner. One in eight said the rapist was a family member.

According to a new documentary, The Invisible War, women serving in the US military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by a gun or bomb. The Department of Defense estimates that at least 20 per cent of servicewomen and one percent of men – an estimated 500,000 soldiers – have experienced sexual trauma. In 2009, 16,150 service members were assaulted. Because so many women are frightened to speak out, the real numbers are probably much higher.

According to medical reports, the incidence of pregnancy for unprotected sexual intercourse is five per cent. In 2004-2005, 64,080 women were raped. The Rape, Abuse and Incest Network estimates there were 3,204 pregnancies as a result of rape during that period.

These devastatingly high numbers show that rape affects almost every family in the United States, yet you’d be hard pressed to hear these dire statistics in any of the debates or wall-to-wall election coverage.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney hasn’t signed Personhood USA’s pledge, but says he now opposes abortion after supporting a woman’s right to it during his 2002 gubernatorial campaign. “My view is that the Supreme Court should reverse Roe v Wade and send back to the states the responsibility for deciding whether they’re going to have abortion legal in their state or not,” he told former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee on Fox News in October.

If the debates and campaign interviews were about actual substance, reporters would press these men on the consequences of their extreme positions on abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood, and sex education, all of which are under attack. They might even mention the fact that abortion rates are higher in countries where the procedure is illegal. According to new research from the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organisation, approximately 47,000 women died from unsafe abortions in 2008. It’s obvious to any thinking person that if a woman doesn’t want to be pregnant, she will do whatever it takes to end the pregnancy.

But the media rarely raise these issues with anti-choice politicians and groups such as Personhood USA. Unfortunately, the exchange we saw between CNN’s Piers Morgan and Rick Santorum is all too rare in the US media. Even though there have been 18 debates and endless campaign events, most reporters give these candidates a pass on these crucial issues. Personhood USA hasn’t returned my repeated requests for an interview.

Personhood USA is the organisation that’s pushing so-called personhood amendments at the state level. In November, when the group backed a ballot initiative in Mississippi that would have defined a person as “every human being from the moment of fertilisation”, and would have outlawed some hormone-releasing IUDs and birth control pills, it lost by 58 per cent. Even women who oppose abortion said the initiative went too far and voted against it. That tells you how out of touch these men are with one of the most conservative voting blocs in the country. So-called personhood amendments have also failed twice in Colorado, by large margins.

So how did we get here and what should the response be?

Merle Hoffman, trailblazing reproductive rights advocate and author of Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Boardroom, believes we need to occupy the abortion debate. “After 1973, everybody put their feet up on the desk when the anti-choice movement started to activate and said, ‘Oh, they’ll never take it away. Abortion is legal,'” she says. “We have to occupy the discussion with pro-choice truth, with our mission, and with our morality. You cannot sit back say it’s never going to happen because it’s happening. We have to be awake, aware, and active.”

Jodi Jacobson, editor-in-chief of the must-read RH Reality Check, says Roe is almost a hindrance – because people think that if it’s in place, nothing more has to be done. Even though abortion is legal in the US, 87 percent of all counties and 98 percent of all rural counties have no abortion providers, according to Medical Students for Choice.

The anti-choice agenda has finally been exposed for what it is. “They’ve always wanted to eliminate abortion and birth control and ‘put women back in their place’,” says Jacobson.

Once the public learns that the extreme wing of the Republican Party wants to pass an amendment that would deprive women of their personhood, we will hopefully see the kind of outrage that will end this madness once and for all.

Rose Aguilar is the host of Your Call, a daily call-in radio show on KALW in San Francisco. She’s the author of Red Highways: A Liberal’s Journey into the Heartland.