The Other American Exceptionalism: “Rape, incest, and mine”

8 Sep

Conservative thinkers have long embraced the idea of “American exceptionalism;” that is, the idea that the United States, as a nation, is qualitatively different from other nations: we are, by virtue of being one of the first Western nations founded on ideas of liberty and equality (you know, for White, land-owning men), somehow unique in history, in the eyes of God, or by whatever standard the person invoking the term deems credible.

The idea is derived from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1831), but it’s more recently become a recurring trope used by Republican presidential candidates:  Mitt Romney writes, “This reorientation away from a celebration of American exceptionalism is misguided and bankrupt”; Sarah Palin’s America by Heart has a chapter entitled “America the Exceptional”; and Rick Santorum preaches, “Don’t kid yourself with the lie.  America is exceptional.”  Get it?  We’re different.  We’re better.  We’re the exception.

Of course, none of these candidates were talking about abortion when they made these statements – but the idea of exceptionalism is surprisingly consistent in both areas of Conservative rhetoric.  It seems to me like the “My country is the best and most exceptional country in the world” is just a step removed from the “My abortion is most necessary and my reasons are the most valid, and my abortion is the one acceptable abortion of all the abortions ever.”

Our blogger Lauren has previously written here on the Abortion Gang about “The Exceptions” and why the “I’m-pro-life-except-in-cases-of-rape-and-incest” or “I’m-pro-choice-but-not-after-X-number-of-weeks” frameworks are so problematic.  But the personal exception takes these even further. Because, don’t kid yourself, anti-choicers get abortions every day.  And each one of them in “the exception.”

I recently finished reading Carol Joffe’s Dispatches from the Abortion Wars, and she illustrates this concept perfectly:

The palpable sense of isolation and corresponding lack of solidarity with other patients were for me one of the most interesting things to emerge from this study. “I am a Christian – I am not doing this casually,” clearly suggesting that others in the waiting room were not so thoughtful and moral… Perhaps the starkest example of isolation came from one woman’s response to the question of whether she would “ever consider being part of a group that supports people who get abortions.” Her answer was an emphatic no.  As she put it, “I wouldn’t support them because… it [might become] a habit for everyone.” The speaker was a twenty-year-old mother of one, about to have her second abortion.

Even more extreme were those stories of clinic protestors who then showed up inside the clinic when they or their daughter had an unplanned pregnancy: “The provider community wrly describes this unique patient group as ‘the women whose three acceptable exceptions for an abortion are “rape, incest, or mine.”’”  For even more examples, please read Joyce Arthur’s excellent essay “The Only Moral Abortion is my Abortion.”

Perhaps the most startling example of such exceptionalism is from “Don’t-kid-yourself” Rick Santorum.  Days after discovering her fetus had a fatal defect, Santorum’s wife Karen came down with a fever, an indicator of a dangerous infection.  Inducing labor at 20 weeks gestation – nearly a month prior to viability – was the only sure way to save Karen’s life.  So, the Santorums did what nearly any family would do: they decided to save the mother’s life and proceed with inducing labor, even though that would assuredly cause the fetus’s death.  One might call this procedure a partial-birth abortion.  Except, Santorum wouldn’t call it that because he’s opposed to abortion, believes abortion providers should be jailed, and calls exceptions to save the mother’s life a “phony exception.”  Unless, of course, the life being saved is that of his wife’s.  Because his reasons were different.  Their reasons were better.  Their case was the exception.

Unfortunately (and ironically), it is not the tenets of liberty and individual freedom that Conservatives claim as the basis for American exceptionalism that translate into their stance on abortion, (as such beliefs would necessitate freedom of choice and access to abortion) but the idea of superiority and self-righteousness that endures.  What unites these paradigms is the stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge the validity of experiences outside of one’s own.

When it comes to abortion, there are no exceptions to the rule; the exceptions are the rule.  Every abortion is different.  Every person seeking an abortion has their own reasons and their own story.  No exceptions.

6 Responses to “The Other American Exceptionalism: “Rape, incest, and mine””

  1. Molly September 8, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

    The cognitive dissonance of some [most] of these anti-choicers is headache-inducing.Great article, per usual!

  2. Sophia September 8, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

    It’s such an underrated argument you make, I wish it would garner far more attention, becuase it’s so true: liberty for all* (with a giant asterisk denoting they really mean, liberty for all the rich anglo males).

  3. sash September 10, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    This is so true. Both my mom and I worked for abortion care providers; the number of women who claimed that they were “pro-life” but *their* abortion was the special snowflake of abortions was amazing. We also performed abortions on women who protested our clinics, even after their abortions.

    Guttmacher’s research puts the number of women who have abortions who also self-identify as “pro-life” as about in 1 in 6. That’s consistent with our anecdotal experience, although I would put it closer to 1 in 4.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Other American Exceptionalism: Rape, incest, and mine | Gretchen Sisson - September 26, 2011

    [...] please read the rest on AbortionGang.org. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  2. Operating under a broken system: on legitimate abortions and forced triage | Abortion Gang - August 23, 2012

    [...] person who falls under exceptions such as rape, incest, or threat to the person’s life. Many of us in the reproductive health, rights, and justice movements have written about and fought against the [...]

  3. Gretchen Sisson - October 29, 2012

    [...] The Other American Exceptionalism: Rape, incest, and mine [...]

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