Emboldened by the passage of Alabama’s almost total ban on abortion, some extremist anti-abortion activists are now pushing for the Republican Party to, in their words, “reconsider decades-old talking points” that make exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.
As NPR reported, a coalition of groups led by Students for Life of America, is urging party officials to adopt their hardline stance:
“We understand that issues like rape and incest are difficult topics to tackle; nevertheless, it is our view that the value of human life is not determined by the circumstances of one’s conception or birth,” said a draft of the letter provided to NPR by Students for Life of America, which led the effort.
The letter, which is addressed to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, goes on: “A child conceived in rape is still a child. We don’t blame children for other matters outside their control. Why should we do so here?”
Republican officials have increasingly embraced the language of anti-abortion extremists but sidestep the question of what seriously taking their claims—that abortion is murder—would really mean. After Alabama’s abortion ban, which has yet to take effect, was passed, a slew of prominent Republican leaders expressed reservations about the law’s lack of exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
“Personally, I would have the exceptions,” McDaniel told CNN, referring to rape and incest exceptions. Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stated the law “goes further than I believe,” adding, “I believe in exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother, and that’s what I’ve voted on.” Donald Trump, in a tweet, repeated that sentiment. “I am strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions—Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother—the same position taken by Ronald Reagan,” he wrote.
Yet for a party that has largely wholeheartedly taken on the language of anti-abortion activists, whose most reactionary adherents have for decades pushed for an almost total ban on abortions, the Alabama law represents the ideologically consistent endpoint of the anti-abortion movement, which consistently frames abortion as “murder” and those who obtain abortions as killers.
This is a position best summed up by Troy Newman, an evangelical Christian who heads up the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. As quoted by the feminist philosopher Kate Manne, Newman wrote in his 2000 book Their Blood Cries Out:
By comparing abortion directly to any other act of premeditated contract killing, it is easy to see that there is no difference in principle. However, in our society, a mother of an aborted baby is considered untouchable whereas any other mother, killing any other family member, would be called what she is: a murderer.
In our current social climate, it is acceptable to lay blame for abortion at the feet of the abortionists, the social liberals who encourage the abortions, and the law-makers who allow and even pay for them. But the mother is the one person we are not allowed to call guilty. Ironically, she is the one who needs most to see what she has done. . . . By confronting the woman with her sin, our objective is to get her to see the evil that has resulted from her actions. By withholding truthful confrontation from her, we prevent her from being brought to repentance and ultimate restoration.
This position—that abortion is a criminal act, akin to murder, which must be punished in all circumstances—is becoming more widespread, as extremist activists continue to push lawmakers to embrace legislation that would codify that belief into law. On Tuesday, two anti-abortion activists argued in the Federalist that people who terminate their pregnancies must be prosecuted. Pointing to recently failed bills in several Republican-led states that equated abortions with murder, they wrote, “Pro-life legislation that creates the right to DIY abortion and fails to categorize abortion as murder does not deserve our support.” In a hearing for the Texas bill, which would have equated an abortion with homicide, a crime that can lead to the death penalty in the state, Jim Baxa of West Texans for Life bluntly stated his support: “A woman who has committed murder should be charged with murder.”
Also on Tuesday, Charlotte Pence, the daughter of Vice President Mike Pence, penned an op-ed in the conservative Washington Times celebrating Alabama’s draconian abortion ban, writing, “Personally, I would not encourage a friend to get an abortion if she suffered the horrendous evil of rape or incest, because I care about her child—and her. I do not believe abortion provides healing.”
As my colleague Stassa Edwards wrote recently, “The myth of mother-as-murderer still animates the way in which the anti-abortion movement imagines women.” As much as some Republican officials are uncomfortable, at least in public, with the idea of following their beliefs to their logical conclusion, we should remember that this is what they’ve wanted all along.