This week, Senate candidate Todd Akin keeps on rolling back the clock on women’s rights. As it turns out, we’ve been trying to define rape for a long time. While Obama has recently stated that rape shouldn’t be defined in just one way, republicans are still trying. But the main issue isn’t really rape, it’s how to keep babies inside wombs and overturn the Roe v. Wade that women fought so hard to accomplish.
According to the Washington Post, rape used to be defined as “the carnal knowledge of a woman when achieved by force by a man other than her husband.” This was in the 19th century. In fact, some states and countries still believe this definition to be true. And it wasn’t that long ago that the United States began to think differently about that definition.
It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that anyone was convicted of spousal or marital rape. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) has reported that prior to this, spousal rape was actually considered a “wifely duty,” and only “stranger rape” was considered legitimate. Statutory rape and raping African American women was also acceptable at this time, as some people, including married women, did not control the fate of their own bodies.
Some states have made spousal rape harder to prove than other forms of rape as well. Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois and several others all have limitations that are specific to spousal rape. While Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Indiana treat spousal rape as any other rape, states like Illinois put a time limit on when the rape can be reported. For Illinois, it’s 30 days.
It’s clear that we still have a hard time defining rape, and we have an even harder time believing that rape related abortions are acceptable.
Yet, we know now that thousands of pregnancies occur each year as a result of rape. In countless news sources from this past week, statistics were emblazed on headlines, saying that 32,000 women experience rape related pregnancies each year. And even though the Detroit Free Press has stated that these numbers cannot be accurate, there still are thousands of women who have that experience. However, RAINN estimates that it is far less, about 3,200.
For those 3,200, Republicans like Akin and Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan are taking it upon themselves to not only redefine the term rape, but also to conclude that abortions should not be allowed for specific types of rape.
While earlier this week Ryan claimed to have supported Akin’s stance on rape, he has now softened his position. In a Huffington Post article, he said, “Rape is rape. End of story.” However, Ryan has a long history of anti-abortion policy, including support of a bill that allowed anti-abortion hospitals to refuse abortions, even in the case of emergencies.
It’s taken a long time to achieve women’s abortion rights. It seems that people have forgotten what it was like when abortion was strictly illegal. In a recent Mother Jones article entitled, “The Way It Was,” by Eleanor Cooley, she goes over some of the most horrific scenes of the 1960s. She describes the story of a woman who had been date raped and impregnated by a poet. She tried scalding baths, violent jumping and having someone walk on her belly to try and expel the fetus. Of course, it was of no use, and no doctor would help her. But her doctor did tell her of a prostitute who would do it.
When the abortion was performed, the catheter was inserted through the cervix and left there. The woman was left with a fever, chills and bleeding. Not to mention she was passing huge chucks of tissue. In short, the abortion was not performed correctly, and she wound up in the hospital anyway.
Several other cases were just like this one, some resulting in deaths. In fact, USA Today reported in 1989 that hundreds of thousands of women had performed illegal abortions, and one of every 10 died from doing so.
Clearly, it has taken years of litigation and struggle to be where we are today. However, it seems as if many have forgotten that even when we try to take rights away, women will still try to control what happens to their bodies, regardless of law, and regardless of rape. Having control over one’s body is a human right. But the question is: do Ryan and Akin think that they can change the definition of rape within their short terms, only to limit the rights of women?