Leaked documents from the Supreme Court have made it clear Roe v. Wade is on its way out, and opportunistic Republican governors are unsurprisingly frothing at the mouth. One such governor is Nebraska’s Pete Ricketts.
A week after Rep. Nancy Mace (R-CO) erroneously claimed “the vast majority of Republicans” support rape exceptions for abortion bans, Ricketts appeared on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday to declare himself so “pro-life” that he believes rape survivors should be forced to remain impregnated by their rapists—certainly a bold claim from the same man who bank-rolled a ballot measure to reinstate the death penalty in his state.
“Can you clarify, do you think that the state of Nebraska should require a young girl who was raped to carry that pregnancy to term?” CNN’s Dana Bash asked Ricketts on Sunday.
“Those are babies, too. If Roe v. Wade, a horrible constitutional decision, gets overturned by the Supreme Court, which we’re hopeful of, here in Nebraska we’ll take further steps to protect those preborn babies,” Ricketts replied.
Ricketts and Bash then went back and forth like this for some time, with Bash repeatedly trying to clarify Ricketts’s support for abortion bans even “in the case of rape or incest,” to which Ricketts repeatedly responded by spewing the following pure bile: “Yes, they’re still babies.” The Nebraska governor also pledged to call the legislature into a special session when Roe falls, and enact a total abortion ban in his state, without exceptions.
Ricketts is, of course, saying the quiet part loud by opposing the exemption. His choices in language are terrifying—for example, repeatedly referring to fertilized eggs and fetuses as “babies” without so much as pausing to recognize the humanity of the pregnant rape survivor, or any pregnant person, for that matter. But this position is entirely in line with where the party has been going for years: To the monsters who have spent the last decades screaming and legislating that abortion, an extremely basic, common health service, is murder, why would it magically stop being murder based on the circumstances in which someone was impregnated? Why should we expect Republican lawmakers like Ricketts to care about rape survivors when all abortion bans, which allow the state to invade someone’s body and force them to be pregnant and give birth without their consent, are a form of gender-based violence?
It’s tempting to call Ricketts’ militant self-identification as “pro-life” hypocrisy, in the context of his years-long crusade to implement and enforce the death penalty in his state. In 2015, shortly after the legislature overrode Ricketts’ veto of a bill to abolish the death penalty, the wealthy former businessman-turned-governor financed a ballot measure to reinstate the death penalty, and in 2018, a man was executed in Nebraska for the first time since 1997. (The death penalty, to be clear, is outdated and barbaric: A South Carolina man was recently forced to choose between death by electric chair or firing squad...in the year 2022.)
Ultimately, there’s nothing inconsistent about an anti-abortion politician being pro-death. Abortion bans and restrictions that push crucial reproductive health care out of reach for the most marginalized people have always contributed to higher maternal mortality rates—particularly for Black pregnant people, who are 243% more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white people. The trauma of forced pregnancy and birth has always been state violence. And between the disproportionate impacts of the death penalty on Black people and people of color, and abortion bans on people of color who are more likely to seek abortion care, both policy positions have always been deeply rooted in white supremacy.
That Ricketts supports the death penalty as well as an abortion ban without rape exceptions is also entirely consistent with the role of these bans in placing people at greater risk of criminalization. Criminalization for pregnancy outcomes including abortion has tripled in recent years—a statistic that’s guaranteed to worsen when Roe falls, and all pregnant people’s bodies become subject to criminal suspicion. For years now, state legislatures have been floating bills in support of the death penalty for abortion providers and patients.
It is, of course, worth noting that Bash’s repeated, exhaustive questions on the rape exemption to abortion bans isn’t particularly helpful either, beyond yielding truly horrifying soundbites of Gov. Ricketts affirming his hatred of rape survivors and pregnant people. But historically, instead of helping survivors, rape exceptions have helped anti-abortion politicians make their laws seem more humane and “reasonable.” Emphasis on the rape exception—as we saw from Bash’s questioning of Ricketts—tends to validate that there are right and wrong reasons for abortion, needlessly further stigmatizing it.
The exemption has always been largely symbolic—the majority of sexual assaults aren’t reported to police, and actual data has shown few survivors impregnated by rape have used the ban. Despite this, rape exceptions have spread the misconception that rape is easy for victims to “prove” to law enforcement, which many abortion laws with rape exceptions require, and shrugged off the retraumatizing process of reporting rape as an uncomplicated footnote in trying to get an abortion.
Nonetheless, that lawmakers like Ricketts no longer even feel compelled to fake concern for survivors seems like a chilling omen of what’s to come in our post-Roe future.