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The Exception Trap


The South Dakota legislature is planning to reintroduce an abortion ban that (unlike the law overturned by initiative last year) includes exemptions for rape and incest. Jessica Valenti notes that “this is going to mean a change of fighting words on our part. After all, a lot of what pro-choicers talked about when trying to defeat the last ban was the lack of exceptions.”

Although I can understand that sometimes you have to take advantage of what opportunities you have in the short-term, I’ve always thought that from a pro-choice perspective focusing on the lack of a rape or incest exemption is a disastrous long-term strategy. First of all, in practice rape/incest exemptions are unlikely to afford much protection to women, so women don’t really gain anything. Given the compressed time frame, states determined to prevent abortions can make the procedural hurdles to proving that a pregnancy was the result of non-consensual sex so difficult and humiliating that most women who could clear them could probably obtain abortions under any legal regime anyway. And second, to imply that forcing women to carry pregnancies to term is uniquely bad in cases of rape or incest is to essentially accept the reactionary sexual mores that underly the criminalization of abortion in the first place. Implicit in such exceptions is the assumption that if a women gets pregnant through voluntary sexual relations she can be punished by being forced to carry her pregnancy by the coercive authority of the state; rape victims get a pass because they didn’t “choose” to become pregnant. To pro-choicers, this should be viewed as nonsensical. A woman’s reproductive freedom should not depend on whether or not she is a victim of rape or incest. As the South Dakota case demonstrates, pushing pro-life positions toward their logical conclusion is the much better strategy.

[Also at TAPPED.]

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