Opinion

Why Alabama's Abortion Ban Is Akin to Torture

Forcing women to carry their rapist's baby has traditionally been used as a weapon of war, and is considered a violation of human rights.

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Illustration by Erin Lux

Last night, the Republican governor of Alamba, Kay Ivey, signed into law a bill to ban abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.

The bill passed 25-6 on Tuesday. Everyone who voted for it was a man. The same bill passed in the House last month, despite the fact 78 percent of the population believes abortion should be allowed in cases concerning rape or incest.

The repercussions of such a law are already becoming clear. In Ohio, an 11 -year-old is pregnant with a 26-year-old’s baby. Under the new law instituted in Ohio, which bans abortion after six weeks and, like Alabama’s, makes no exceptions for rape or incest, she’d have to carry her rapist’s baby to term.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey Human Life Protection Act
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, an abortion ban that criminalizes abortion as a Class A felony, even in cases of rape and incest.
ALABAMA GOVERNOR OFFICE HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/REX/ShutterstockShutterstock

This isn’t uncommon in places outside of America. A similar case recently occurred in Argentina, where an 11-year-old was denied an abortion despite begging the court “to remove what the old man put inside me.” She attempted suicide twice.

These stories may come as a surprise to the Republicans who think that if a woman is raped she will not become pregnant. In 2012, Republican Representative Todd Akin stated that, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing [pregnancy] down”. In spite of this bizarre brand of illogic, as of 2012, there were 25,000 rape-related pregnancies each year in the United States.

The difference is that until now, it was generally understood that abortion should always be an option for anyone who was raped.

Through draconian abortion laws that enable these situations, American states are declaring a war on women. That may seem like a flip thing to say, as we hear the term “war on men” a lot. It is generally invoked by men who don’t like Gillette commercials telling them to be nicer, or men who feel like it was flirting when they exposed their penises to their co-workers, and what, can they not even flirt anymore?

So let me be clear: those are not weapons of war. Those are mostly women politely asking men to stop being creepy and touching them.

An actual weapon of war is something like forcing women to bear their rapist’s children, as states like Alabama and Ohio now intend to do.

In Bosnia, for instance, women were forced to bear their rapists' children as part of an ethnic cleansing strategy—which is to say they would give birth to Serbian children useful to the new regime. In Nigeria, Boko Haram kidnapped girls as young as nine with the intent to impregnate them and breed a new generation of fighters. In Syria, where rape and forced impregnation is similarly used to exert control over the female population, women describe their own bodies as, “battlefields and torture chambers.

Even outside of war, tales of women who are forced to carry a rapist’s baby only to commit suicide are common around the world, such as one from a woman in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who reported, “When I realized I was pregnant from sexual violence, I attempted suicide. I took an overdose of medicine but I failed.”

Unsurprisingly, a 2017 study found that women impregnated by acts of violence rank high in terms of “depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and suicidality.” These mental health outcomes, however, were not quite as bad for women who chose to terminate their pregnancies by rape or sexual violence. The study found, “suicidal ideation or suicide attempts were described in the parenting group interviews, but not in the termination group interviews.”

Human Rights Watch has, though their work in Ecuador, “consistently found that legal frameworks that do not exempt from punishment abortions, performed when a woman’s life or health is endangered or in the case of rape, create an environment where women turn to unsafe and clandestine procedures that threaten their health and lives.”

Those procedures are routinely deadly, and account for 15 percent of deaths in the country.

One doctor working in the region, Lina Roa, described a death from an unsafe abortion, writing:

“I’d seen her arrive at the hospital earlier that day: her pink nail polish, the flower print dress drenched in sweat and tears. The blood. We’d rushed her to the operating room, but we were too late. When we opened her up, I saw that a sharp object had pierced her womb, her intestines and her bladder.”

Roa concluded that “forcing a minor who has been raped to carry on with her pregnancy should be considered a violation of human rights.”

Seemingly, that didn’t matter too much to the officials U.S.—like Republican Sharron Angle who suggested that women pregnant by their rapists should keep the baby and “turn a lemon situation into lemonade.

We’ve been deliberately ignoring the trauma that women suffer globally when they are forced to carry a rapist’s child for some time.

In 2013, the United Nations passed two resolutions (Security Council Resolutions 2106 and 2122) calling on member states to ensure that humanitarian aid for rape victims included abortion. The U.S. declined to comply due to the 1973 Helms Amendment, which says that no foreign aid may go to abortions. In doing so, the Global Justice Center reports that, “U.S. policy increases the morbidity and mortality of girls and women who are impregnated by war rape rather than alleviating their suffering.”

The U.K. likened the U.S. restrictions on this point to “torture.

For years, we’ve been okay with women in other countries being forced to carry and bear their rapist’s children, despite knowing about the horrific psychological outcomes that doing so provokes. We were always all right with torturing those women. It shouldn’t shock us that politicians here are all right doing the same to our own citizens.

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