Choosing Birth after Rape

10 Jun

I would like to give an often ignored perspective of rape, pregnancy and abortion (this is your trigger warning, though I don’t plan to be graphic).

I often see tweets, blog posts and comments from women and men (and people who identify as neither of the above) sharing their horror at the thought of carrying a pregnancy conceived in rape to term. They proudly and strongly say they support abortion, because it’s horrific, gruesome, disgusting, and cruel to force a woman to carry to term after she was raped (or, “give birth to her rapist’s child”). Now maybe I’m not paying attention, but it seems that all of the feminist discussion around rape and pregnancy decisions is focused around how awful it is for women to give birth after rape. Yet one study in 1996 (old, but the only reliable one I could find) said 32.2% of raped women chose to birth and keep the child (50% had abortions, 5.9% participated in adoption and 11.8% had miscarriages). 32% is a substantial portion of women that it seems many feminist forget about.

I 100% agree that it’s wrong to force a woman to carry to term when she wants to abort.

But I have to wonder: how does this type of language (horrific, disgusting, cruel) affect women who choose to carry to term after rape?

I wonder how a single mother of a beautiful two year old who happened to be conceived from rape feels when she reads that it’s “barbaric” to “force a woman to give birth to the child of her rapist.” Does she feel like she was supported in her choice? Doubtful.

We always need to be considerate of who we talk about and who we talk to. While it may seem clear that the barbaric part is the force of rape, denying the woman her access to decide to have sex,  if we only talk about how wrong it is to force birth instead of how wrong it is to force abortion, or force any unwanted choice, then others may start reading it as the birth of a child as disgusting. And I certainly hope no one actually thinks choosing to give birth is disgusting.

I know a lot of this language choice is based upon our hatred of rape, and it would make sense to have a second discussion about rape here, but I’m not going to do that. All I ask is that we default to the individual woman’s opinion before we share our own feelings when dealing with issues of pregnancy, abortion and rape, because everyone should feel supported in their decisions.

14 Responses to “Choosing Birth after Rape”

  1. pomegrenade June 10, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    i greatly appreciate this post. in fact, during the whole “Tell Us What You Mean By Prochoice” ordeal a while back i touched on it in my own blog. the short version:

    before becoming prochoice, i have no doubt i would have chosen abortion had i become pregnant due to sexual assault. i can’t even concretely say why. but i DO know that it was Rule 2 of the Holy Trinity of Abortion Exceptions, and somehow that made it feel like less of a choice; like i was somehow supposed to. since becoming prochoice i’ve now decided otherwise. it is MY decision and no one else’s. there is no “should” or “shouldn’t” until i make that determination. prochoice puts the choice back into our hands completely. because of that, i wholeheartedly believe that should i ever be victim of a sexual assault again and find myself pregnant, i would feel no need to seek an abortion. and i’d like to believe i wouldn’t have to suffer criticism for that.

  2. Amanda June 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    Thank you for this. I think sometimes, in our efforts to be “pro-choice,” sometimes we forget the choice to carry to term in these situations. It’s not that we don’t support it–we just get so caught up in the cause that we forget the point. Thank you for this concise reminder that choice means ALL choices, in ALL situations.

  3. Jessie June 10, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Forcing a woman to carry a child to term against her will is in itself barbaric, regardless of the circumstances of conception. We use rape (and incest) as the examples of when we should make exceptions to restrictions against abortion because people feel horrified at the crime that has already occurred, and hope, I think, that they will see that making a woman carry a child at that point is an additional violation of her being.

    I fully respect the very difficult choice a woman in this situation has to face. I was lucky that when I was myself the victim of sexual assault that I did not get pregnant. I would have chosen to terminate the pregnancy if I had, but I would not want anyone to feel ostracized or marginalized if they made another choice.

  4. pomegrenade June 10, 2011 at 2:31 pm #

    Amanda, i hear you. i think it’s because the right to choose abortion is pretty much the only one we have to defend so fiercely. it feels like a rarity when we’re called to the defense of someone’s right outside of the realm of abortion, so i think it’s easy for us to to get sucked into that after a while, allowing an entire spectrum of issues to basically just become background noise.

    (i apologise if this post is repetitive or only semi-coherent. i am very sleep deprived.)

  5. Steph L June 10, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    “it’s horrific, gruesome, disgusting, and cruel to FORCE a woman to carry to term after she was raped”

    The key word there, if you bother to pay attention, is “force.” And yes that is cruel and disgusting.

    Personally I do think it is disgusting to choose that option, but its my personal opinion and I’m entitled to it. Unlike antis I don’t get into people’s faces about it or shout it from the rooftops. I stay out of other people’s business that doesn’t actively involve me. People can do as they wish in that scenario, but the world won’t bend over backwards to accomodate it.

  6. Steph L June 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    “it’s horrific, gruesome, disgusting, and cruel to FORCE a woman to carry to term after she was raped”

    The key word there, if you bother to pay attention, is “force.” And yes that is cruel and disgusting.

    Personally I do think it is sick to choose carry a rape baby to term, but that’s just my personal opinion and I’m entitled to it.
    Unlike antis I don’t get into people’s faces about it or shout it from the rooftops. I stay out of other people’s business that doesn’t actively involve me. People can do as they wish in that scenario, but the world won’t bend over backwards to accomodate it.

  7. Alicia June 10, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    I think the trouble is that we get so caught up in arguments as to why abortion has to be legal that it’s just easier (and a more powerful statement) to say “it’s horrific, gruesome, disgusting, and cruel to force a woman to carry to term after she was raped” when what (I believe) everyone means is, “it’s horrific, gruesome, disgusting, and cruel to take another choice away from a victim.” The second is the more honest, logical, and sensitive version and we should try to use that instead, but the first definitely packs more of an emotional punch, which is why it’s so widely used. After all, in arguments where pro-choicers are so often have to be the unemotional voices of reason and science, every little emotional crumb we can pack, we tend to take advantage of. After all, when you have a misogynist who believes his God will provide, it’s hard to convince him to empathize with a single mother of three who can barely put food on the table, but anyone with a little bit of a heart can empathize with a rape victim.

    Meaning, of course, the Pete Degraaf is a heartless, evil pig, but we all knew that…

  8. SayWhat June 10, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    Of the 30% that ‘chose’ to keep the child, there’s probably a huge number of those cases where choice did not enter into it. Marital rapists often control reproductive choice, some women have no access to reproductive clinic facilities and no money, and others discover their pregnancy too late. i’ve met women in all of those categories. Keeping baby =/= choosing to keep it.

  9. Tenya June 10, 2011 at 8:27 pm #

    The word “force” is where the focus should be in that sentence, not on carrying the pregnancy. Not that it is somehow less cruel or less disgusting to force a woman to carry a pregnancy in other circumstances, but when attempting to convince the public at large that forced child-bearing is not a pleasant thing most can grasp the concept when the pregnancy is a result of rape. They may harbor vague “well if she didn’t use birth control (enough) she should face the consequences” sentiments in other circumstances, but not with rape.

    The problem is not with pro-choicers who feel abortion is a morally neutral act, but with those who identify as somewhat or completely pro-life valuing some embryos over others that would make a woman choosing to continue a pregnancy that was a result of rape as doing something incomprehensible.
    Additionally, there are people that do not feel abortion is a mortal sin, who feel completely comfortable dictating how women should choose – ie, “if you’re a teenager” “if you’re poor” “if you’ve been raped” “if you have a health condition” – this is insensitive to those women and is not pro-choice either. Pro-choice means trusting women, full stop.

  10. Macha June 11, 2011 at 12:26 am #

    This is a great point. I’ve never liked how demeaning this argument was to the experience of pregnancy and birth. Birth can and should be an empowering experience of owning your body and bringing yourself to your full strength and potential as a woman. Of course on the other side of the spectrum, giving birth to and/or raising a child after birth is just not a healthy option. But, neither choice should be demeaned. It’s an individual, personal decision, and you just have to do what’s right for you.

    Of course, I’d prefer nobody have to make that choice because I’d prefer nobody ever be raped.

  11. Lorelei June 12, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    Yes! Thank you. I’ve always felt a little uneasy around this subject. There are so many facets and I know that sometimes I speak before fully considering all sides. I do think though that there needs to be a focus on supporting the choices of women no matter what choice they make, and making sure that they feel empowered enough to make the decision that they believe is right for them. It can be all too easy to get caught up in the debate of it all and forget that these are people and all of them are going to be thinking different than one another and what is right for one isn’t right for the rest.

  12. JP Prichard June 14, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    “SayWhat 10. Jun, 2011 at 5:07 pm: Of the 30% that ‘chose’ to keep the child, there’s probably a huge number of those cases where choice did not enter into it. Marital rapists often control reproductive choice, some women have no access to reproductive clinic facilities and no money, and others discover their pregnancy too late. i’ve met women in all of those categories. Keeping baby =/= choosing to keep it.”

    Not trying to start a quarrel… Wondering if you feel that this statement is also a symptom of the knee-jerk defense of abortion some of the others have mentioned? Not gonna pretend to be someone else; I’m anti- all the way. But your post seems to reveal a certain dichotomy I’ve noticed in other locations. Here’s what I mean:

    You seem vested in defending a woman’s right to abortion when she is coerced into keeping the baby. Do you feel equally strong that a woman should not be coerced into abortion when she wants to keep the baby? I’m not going to quote statistics that others might refute, but I do keep a FB Page that records frequent occurrences that actually make the news, so it DOES happen frequently.

    Mainly, I’m thinking of PP, NARAL, NAF, etc. coming out against, or suing to eliminate, laws that focus on protecting women from being coerced into abortion. Obviously, that may not include one or all of you personally, but it makes me wonder, y’know?

    When those laws are being fought against – is it just rage against the anti- machine? Because, like the article suggests, why wouldn’t we all be focused at the personal level, where stopping coercion seems kinda important?

    Like I said, not trying to fight, just seems like we might have some common ground here.

  13. leia peison June 17, 2011 at 1:17 am #

    i think it is wise for women to abort in this instance and in any other instance where a pregnancy befalls her that wasnt planned. children deserve to be born into the most prepared and loving situations as possible. but i respect her right to make that choice

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. This Week in Feminism | 06.13.11 | College Democrats at the University of Michigan - June 13, 2011

    […] + Choosing Birth After Rape | The importance of respecting all choices, especially when it comes to the surprisingly large number of women who choose to carry their pregnancy to term following sexual assault. […]

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