[Program Note: I wrote the following column last November, when a political storm was breaking over Herman Cain. Sadly, what I wrote back then is just as applicable now that the Republican candidate for Senate in Missouri has exposed to the world his inner thoughts on rape victims. This story seems to be growing, seeing as how Paul Ryan has worked with Todd Akin on anti-abortion bills which reflect this extremist viewpoint. The new "mainstream" Republican position has been slowly shifting towards being in favor of outlawing abortion in all cases -- no exceptions for rape victims, incest victims, or even the life of the mother. Democrats would do well to point out that this extremism would have serious consequences if ever enacted. Follow the logic through to the end. Put it in as blunt language as possible. This is what the Republican Party now stands for. Point it out.]
Originally published November 2, 2011
Championing fatherhood rights for rapists would seem, at first glance, to be a politically suicidal position for any candidate for office in America. After all, who would champion any rights for rapists? Rapists aren't exactly a powerful political lobby in Washington, one would think. But this year's Republican nomination race seems to be testing this, in a big way. Maybe they're trying to get out the rapist vote, or something.
I am speaking, of course, of the position many Republicans have taken on the abortion issue. Such as Herman Cain's newfound position in favor of making abortion illegal in all circumstances. No exceptions would exist for rape victims, incest victims, or for the health of the mother -- abortion would not be a legal option in any of these cases.
Now, I realize Cain is currently having other problems in the "women's issues" arena, but I for one refuse to get sidetracked. If you're interested in Cain's other problems, I would direct you to the entire rest of the media universe, who seem to be doing a more-than-adequate job of covering Cain's problems on this front today.
Instead, I'd like to focus on Cain's evolving stance on abortion. When first asked about abortion, Cain gave a reasonable answer -- one that even fits in with standard conservative "get the government out of our lives" orthodoxy. Cain said that it was a personal decision (he even used the word "choice") to be made by the family involved, and their doctor.
This was, to put it mildly, completely unacceptable to a large swath of the Republican base. Cain hastily backtracked, and is now as "pro-life" as he can humanly be, stating that abortion should be illegal in every single case -- no matter what the extenuating circumstances.
This isn't just Cain's position, it is also many other Republicans' position on the issue. To them it is an easy moral judgment: no abortion, ever, period, end of sentence. But drawing such bright moral lines means abandoning all compassion for victims of sexual crimes, as well as all compassion for a woman who is about to die due to medical complications with her pregnancy. If abortion is forbidden, pregnant women will die. That is brutal, but it is also true.
What is equally as brutal (and equally as true) is the fate of rape and incest victims under the America envisioned by Herman Cain and his fellow Republicans. Drew Westen brought this up in his excellent book on political messaging (The Political Brain: The Role Of Emotion In Deciding The Fate Of The Nation) a few years back, and he puts it much better than I could manage. When he wrote the following passage, he was referring to the anti-abortion plank in the 2004 Republican Party Platform. Speaking as a Democrat running against a no-exceptions Republican, Westen suggests how to properly frame this issue:
"My opponent puts the rights of rapists above the rights of their victims, guaranteeing every rapist the right to choose the mother of his child. What he's proposing is a rapists' bill of rights."
This is the logical entailment of the Republicans' "culture of life." Perhaps the most fundamental right of a woman is to choose whose children she will bear. Yet in the Republican morality tale, if a woman is raped, she must have her rapist's baby. She can give up the child -- who is her own flesh and blood, mingled with the DNA of her rapist -- or she can wake up every morning and see the eyes of her rapist in her child. Those are her two choices. Tell that to the father of a teenage girl in rural Virginia and see how he responds. It is a deeply repugnant, and deeply immoral, position. But its repugnance is only apparent when you make the associative links.
Here is another example:
"My opponent believes that if a sixteen-year-old girl is molested by her father, she should be forced by the government to have his child, and if she doesn't want to, she should be forced by the government to go to the man who raped her and ask for his consent."
To these two examples from Westen, I would add a third of my own:
"My opponent would institute a death sentence for women who have serious medical problems with their pregnancies -- problems that medical science has known how to solve for decades. Instead of allowing a doctor to save a woman's life, my opponent would put not only the government between that woman and her doctor, he would also put a policeman and a jailer in the way as well. Women will die if my opponent has his way -- women whose lives could quite easily be saved. That's the bottom line, and I find it completely unacceptable."
These are the consequences of drawing such a bright line on the abortion issue. Republican politicians have previously used an "out" when speaking of the issue, declaring that while they'd prefer to see abortion completely outlawed, their hands are tied by those dastardly liberal courts -- so they reluctantly are forced to admit that abortions must be legal in the cases of rape, incest, or threats to the mother's life. This position has served a generation of Republican candidates well, stretching back to the mid-1980s.
But now, it seems, this position is no longer extreme enough to get elected (at least, in Iowa, whose very-conservative Republican voters are currently being courted by the candidates). Republican politicians like Cain and others now feel free to openly stake out the most unforgiving abortion stance they possibly can.
The media should really call them on it, but I'm not exactly holding my breath waiting for this to happen. I did see one Republican candidate asked by a journalist about victims of rape and incest, and he brushed it off as something that was, statistically, quite rare. That is of little use to a teenager in such a position, though. "Sorry, you are statistically insignificant, therefore you must have your rapist's baby" is cold comfort indeed.
But while the media timidly refuse to follow the Republican logic through to the unavoidable conclusions, Democrats should be under no such compunction. Call the Cain position on abortion what it really is, in as blunt terms as possible. Make that connection in voters' minds. Force the issue.
If Republicans like Cain ever get their way, and make all abortions illegal in all cases and all circumstances, women are going to needlessly die. You (or your wife or daughter) may be sentenced to death, while a doctor stands helplessly by with the knowledge that could easily save your life. Fathers will be able to molest their daughters fully aware that, while they personally may be punished if they are caught, their child/grandchild will be born anyway.
This is the bottom line: rapists and child molesters will have rights they simply do not have today. That is exactly what Republicans are fighting for. Rape victims will have no rights. Rapists will have new rights. Make no mistake about it, this is what Herman Cain and his ilk are championing: fatherhood rights for rapists.
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant