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Uncovering Subconscious Bias in the Discussion of Abortion & Conception from Rape

When it comes to abortion rights, I have been on both sides of the argument.  I was once vehemently Pro-Life and I am now vehemently Pro-Choice.  My opinion did not change because I think my former “side” on this issue is full of terrible, ill-meaning people.  My view-change resulted after an experience having nothing to do with abortion at all.  When I gave birth to my children, “hospital policies” determined who touched my body, what instruments and medications were used on my body, and what my choices were for my birth.  This was despite the fact that I have worked in health care and social services off and on for the past 10 years, researched best birthing practices and created well-thought-out birth plans.  Oh yeah, and it’s my body.  That too.  I felt that my wishes and autonomy were valued as a secondary justice in the delivery room.  This caused everyone involved unnecessary stress because none of my caregivers trusted my knowledge of my own body.  If I want my autonomy and decisions to be respected when it comes to my body then I need to extend the same to other women.

When I wrote this, I was asked an important question that I wanted to address in its own blog post.  It’s a good question and one that needs to be answered.  In that post, and so many others, I asked fellow Liberals to please stop stigmatizing people who were conceived from rape in order to argue Choice for women.  So, someone wanted to know, how do I think discourse should proceed instead?

I’ll first explain why it matters to me.  As someone who was conceived from rape, and is good friends with at least a dozen other adoptees who were, I can tell you that we all have to live with the ignorance that other people put out there.  People carry a disgusting idea that individuals conceived from rape are genetically flawed and will be born carbon copies of their biological fathers who emulate him in every way.  They even go so far as to speak about the abortion and rape issue as if a woman should have no choice, she must have an abortion, because that’s just how terrible a child conceived from rape would be, if born.  This generates ignorance and creates an unsafe space for individuals conceived from rape and for mothers who have sons and daughters conceived from rape who love them.  I have the right to self-identify and I can tell you that I do not identify myself with what my biological father did.  I am a wife, a mother, a student, a professional, a martial artist–I am many things.  A “rape baby,” “child of a rapist/monster,” “rapist’s baby” are all things that I am not.

When someone who is Pro-Life says that they think fetuses are people and that abortion should be outlawed, even in the case of rape, they are being ideologically consistent.  They are saying that personhood for fetuses is universal and is not assigned by conception circumstance.  Instead of shouting something about horrible “rape babies” in their faces, there are a number of other options.  You can start discussing whether or not fetuses are people.  You could discuss the fact that a woman is indisputably a person and pregnancy does not take away her personhood or the Human Rights that come with it.  You could also discuss what “Human Rights” means to each of you.  But choosing to shout about how horrible “rape babies” are essentially exposes inconsistent ideology on the Pro-Choice person’s side.  We are supposed to believe women deserve “choice” because bodily autonomy is a right that comes with being human.   “Choice” where subjected to public opinion on a given woman’s conception circumstances is not really “choice.”

When someone says, “I want abortion outlawed except in the case of rape,” it indicates they  may harbor a negative subconscious view of women.  This view has nothing to do with fetuses being “life” or “persons.”  This has everything to do with how a person views women, the “type of women” they think have abortions, and wanting to control what “these women” can and can’t do with their own bodies.  To some, women who choose to have sex which resulted in unintended pregnancy have violated their gender roles.  Because they used their bodies in a way that is not deemed socially acceptable for women, by expressing their sexuality, they “deserve” to lose control of what happens to their body when pregnant.  When someone holds a political decision based on a bias they harbor against women, this needs to be called out.  Making laws for women because someone happens not to like women or, perhaps subconsciously, views women in a negative way, is not acceptable.

Subsequently, the way some Pro-Choice advocates blast those who are 100% anti-choice when it comes to the rape exception sends the message that “except in the case of rape” is an acceptable answer to the abortion debate.  It’s not.  Pro-Choice advocates who are satisfied with this answer concede that it’s OK to remove privacy in health care for all women, including the victim of rape, so that society can openly judge under which circumstances a woman has a right to choose and when she does not.  It means that it’s safe to assume that our gender renders us incompetent to make good decisions for our bodies.   Can we not come to a place as a society where we respect women more than this?  As a woman conceived from rape, I am not sure what is worse: being insulted by being called a “rape baby” on a minutely basis every time an election rolls around or seeing people satisfied, perhaps even unintentionally, with the idea that we should all get to have a say about what happens to any given woman’s body in health care.  “Choice” means choice for all women and it also means the reasons she chooses are not up for debate or discussion by anyone else.

About Amanda (22 Articles)
Amanda serves the adoption and foster care communities through individual and family clinical work, group work, writing and presenting, and policy advocacy. Her writing and presentations reach broad audiences through multiple books, magazines, news and radio interviews, and conferences, and she has engaged legislators at the state and congressional levels. Her writing and work focuses on the experience of being adopted, intersecting social justice issues, and adoption community centered & initiated movement toward positive change. Amanda is a Yahoo!Voices featured mom activist and is listed in the Top 20 Adoption blogs by Adoptive Families Magazine.

6 Comments on Uncovering Subconscious Bias in the Discussion of Abortion & Conception from Rape

  1. Agree 100%! I am pro-choice because I want women to have complete autonomy over their lives and bodies; I wish the argument were framed more from that point of view. No one should feel stigmatized or attacked because of the circumstances of their birth or pregnancy.

  2. Amanda, philosophically there is no arguing with your comment. You are either against a woman’s right to control her own body, or you are not. The “except in cases of rape and incest” in abortion sets up a false dichotomy because it says, oh, there are some cases in which we allow a woman to maintain her rights over her body, but only because we give her permission to control her body. Just as the argument for unsealing the records needs to come from the people most involved–adoptees and first/birth mothers–so the argument against this “except in cases and rape and incest”–is best made by a great mind like yours.

    I wish you lived in my town and we could have lunch whenever we felt like it.

  3. I feel like when people add the “except in the case of rape” post script to their pro-life rants, it’s meant to placate women and make us think they’re actually advocating for us, when really it’s just the opposite. I respect those people who choose to be adamantly pro-life, even though I disagree wholeheartedly with them. The “except in the case of rape” pro-lifers are worse than the zealous anti-abortionists, in my opinion, because it feels like they refuse to take a stand on anything: “I think abortion is wrong except for sometimes when it’s okay.” They think they’re pleasing both sides of the coin when actually they’re agreeing with neither.

    This is one of my favorite posts of yours so far. Thank you for writing it.

  4. Mary A. Coyle // August 27, 2012 at 2:17 pm // Reply

    Amanda, well said. I enjoy reading your posts because you always give me a different way to look at things. I have always been pro-choice. I like how you explained this better than anyone I have read or heard speak of this before. I also enjoyed the video you have posted. I hope more young women can see and understand this. I plan on showing this to my daughter. Thank you for being so insightful. Keep writing!

  5. I was also conceived in rape. I have seen these arguments and mulled over them since the Akin shit went down. I’ve read Shauna’s legal paper and what a bunch of people have said about this issue.

    I think there *is* an unconscious bias in the discussion of abortion and conception from rape, but I don’t think it’s always — or even often — about the fetus being a “rapist’s baby.” I think it has more to do with whether people believe the pregnant woman is blameworthy.

    Much of society still holds views about women, pregnancy, and marriage that stem from old religious dictates prohibiting sex outside of wedlock. It’s also commonly presumed (but false) that only pregnant women who aren’t married would seek abortions. So where I think the arguments about making exceptions in cases of rape come from has to do with blaming the woman for her pregnancy, because, don’tcha know, “she wouldn’t be wanting an abortion if she had just kept her legs shut.” In other words, *only if she’s raped* is she considered by people making this argument to be “innocent” and worthy of compassion enough that they can let her terminate the “consequenses” of sex that she didn’t choose. If she wasn’t raped, they believe, then tough luck, she made her bed and she should lay in it.

    I think this is a much bigger and more widespread subconscious bias than the “rapist’s baby” idea. Most people I’ve talked to who express horror at the idea of a woman becoming pregnant after rape frame it in terms of horror that a woman would have to endure lengthy and profound biological changes to her body for something that “she wasn’t responsible for”… and in fact I think this idea is what really underlies some of the ways in which such pregnancies get labeled.

    So, in a nutshell, I think these arguments are often much more about whether the pregnant woman is “blameworthy” or not, and have much less to do with the parentage of the fetus.

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