Abortion Bans With No Exceptions For Rape Or Incest Were Always Part Of The GOP’s End Game 

Since 2004 the Republican Party platform opposed abortion without any delineated exceptions.
Pro-life and pro-choice supporters march outside the US Supreme Court 22 January 2008 in Washington, DC marking the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs Wade decision that made abortion legal. A... Pro-life and pro-choice supporters march outside the US Supreme Court 22 January 2008 in Washington, DC marking the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs Wade decision that made abortion legal. AFP PHOTO / TIM SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS

This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis. The author of this post, Lauren Rankin, is a panelist participating in TPM’s post-Roe abortion rights live discussion taking place Thursday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. ET, hosted by TPM reporter Kate Riga: “Roe v. Wade: What’s Next?” Register here

A decade ago, while campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat in Missouri, Republican candidate Todd Akin became a national laughingstock when he explained why he opposed abortion, even in cases of rape or incest.

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape is] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” he said at the time

Leading national Republicans like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan called his comments “outrageous” and “offensive,” and he lost handily to a Democratic incumbent, as did Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, a Republican who at the time said that pregnancy from rape was “something God intended to happen.”

But that was then. 

After the Supreme Court draft majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade leaked earlier this month, CNN’s Dana Bash asked Gov. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) if he thought that a young girl who was raped should be forced by the state of Nebraska to carry that pregnancy to term. Gov. Ricketts didn’t flinch: “Those are babies too.” 

This time, there were no words of condemnation to be heard from national Republicans. Now, with the Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and end nationwide legal abortion, abortion opponents are declaring, loud and proud, what they’ve always wanted –– to ban abortion without exception. This may seem shocking, but it shouldn’t be. Since 2004 the Republican Party platform opposed abortion without any delineated exceptions. The problem with Akin and Mourdock for anti-abortion Republicans at the time wasn’t that they opposed abortion even in cases of rape and incest – it was that they said it out loud when it wasn’t politically viable to do so. 

A recent YouGov/Economist poll found that only 18 percent of Americans said they believe abortion should be banned if the pregnant person is raped, and only 5 percent believe that a pregnant person should never be able to have an abortion. But that degree of unpopularity among Americans doesn’t matter anymore. With a 6-3 conservative majority on the Court – and a majority that’s demonstrated it’s hellbent on not just overturning Roe but also eradicating the right to privacy – abortion opponents no longer need to camouflage their draconian worldview in politically-salient language. 

What is now a push to eradicate exceptions for rape and incest won’t stop there because the anti-abortion movement never wanted compromise. They never planned to stop once they restricted abortion to a certain point. If it was, they would have been satisfied with bans at 20 weeks, 15 weeks, 12 weeks, eight weeks, even six weeks. But they were not and are not, because the goal was never to reach a sanitized consensus. The goal has always been clear – to end legal abortion in any and all cases, and to punish those who have abortions.

I’ve seen it firsthand. In the six years I spent as a clinic escort at an independent abortion clinic in New Jersey, the protesters who gathered outside the front doors didn’t care why a patient was there. I walked with sexual assault survivors, couples terminating a wanted pregnancy due to fetal anomalies and young girls who had been abused. And they were all subjected to the same litany of cruelty and chaos: “Don’t go into that butcher shop!” “You’ll burn in Hell!” “Abortion is murder and you have blood on your hands!” Even if a patient screamed, through tears, at protesters why exactly they were there, that they had been raped or harmed, the anti-abortion activists saw them in the same light they saw every patient heading into the clinic; as a murderer and a sinner.

Ultimately, abortion opponents gave away the game long before ditching rape and incest exceptions. Their worldview not only posits that every embryo and fetus is a fully-embodied life, but a life that is given precedence over the life of the pregnant person. Randall Terry, creator of Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion protest organization that blockaded clinics in the 80s and 90s and terrorized patients, famously said, “If you think abortion is murder, then act like it’s murder.” 

There is no moral high ground in opposing abortion in cases of rape or incest, just as there is no moral high ground in opposing abortion for any other reason. Abortion is a nuanced, deeply personal, human experience. It’s incredibly common and has always been a part of people’s lives. And, in countries where abortion is heavily restricted or outlawed, people don’t stop having abortions. But those countries do, in turn, have a higher rate of maternal mortality.

Now, in Roe’s final days, as we look toward the draconian future that abortion opponents have created, let’s at least be honest about who the opponents are and what they’ve always wanted – to revive a regressive worldview on vast swaths of the nation. It’s all been part of a decades-long crusade to reinstate white men as the arbiter of privilege and power. As activist and University of Pennsylvania law professor Dorothy Roberts recently noted on MSNBC, “Anti-abortion is a movement to dominate people” with roots in white supremacy.

Along with critical attacks on voting rights, the anti-abortion movement’s white nationalist-rooted efforts seem to be working.

We don’t compromise on fundamental rights, and we can’t compromise with a side that has blockaded, banned, bombed and murdered its way to this crisis point. Yes, it’s worth chiding the horror of forcing a rape victim to bear the child of their own rapist. But the goal posts will continue to shift, as they have for the past 50 years. 

Pretty soon, they’ll have shifted so far that we might not be able to shift them back.

Lauren Rankin is a writer, speaker and the author of “Bodies on the Line: At the Front Lines of the Fight to Protect Abortion in America.” Lauren is also a panelist participating in TPM’s post-Roe abortion rights live discussion event taking place Thursday afternoon at 1:00 p.m ET: “Roe v. Wade: What’s Next?” Register here

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