Richard Mourdock, Republican Senate candidate from Indiana, who has not retracted his debate remark that a pregnancy caused by rape ‘is something that God intended to happen’. Photograph: Michael Conroy/AP
Dear GOP candidates and party members,
I’m going to give you some free campaign advice: stop talking about rape.
The latest Republican rape commentary comes from Romney-endorsed Indiana senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock, who tells us:
“I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Cue outrage, then cue “apology” from Mourdock – not for his comments, but for “any interpretation other than what I intended”. National Republican senatorial committee chairman John Cornyn voiced his support for Mourdock and added that he also believes “life is a gift from God.”
I would hate for Mr Mourdock to think I’m misinterpreting him here, so let’s be clear about what he said: he did not say that rape is a gift from God. He did say that an unwanted pregnancy is a post-rape goodie bag from the Lord.
And that the Lord intended it to happen that way.
Perhaps God should rethink his delivery system. And perhaps Mourdock should rethink his interpretation of divine will.
What this umpteenth rape comment tells us isn’t that the Republican party has a handful of unhinged members who sometimes flub their talking points. It reveals the real agendas and beliefs of the GOP as a whole.
These incidents aren’t isolated, and they aren’t rare. Sharron Angle, who ran for a US Senate seat out of Nevada, said she would tell a young girl wanting an abortion after being raped and impregnated by her father that “two wrongs don’t make a right” and that she should make a “lemon situation into lemonade“. Todd Akin said victims of “legitimate rape” don’t get pregnant – an especially confusing talking point, if God is giving rape victims the gift of pregnancy. Maybe God only gives that gift to victims of illegitimate rape?
Wisconsin state representative Roger Rivard asserted:
“Some girls rape easy.”
Douglas Henry, a Tennessee state senator, told his colleagues:
“Rape, ladies and gentlemen, is not today what rape was. Rape, when I was learning these things, was the violation of a chaste woman, against her will, by some party not her spouse.”
Republican activist Phyllis Schlafly declared that marital rape doesn’t exist, because when you get married you sign up to be sexually available to your husband at all times. And when asked a few years back about what kind of rape victim should be allowed to have an abortion, South Dakota Republican Bill Napoli answered:
“A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.”
Rape lemonade. Legitimate rape. The sodomized virgin exception. A rape gift from God.
Some Republicans, like Mitt Romney, have tried to distance themselves from their party’s rhetorical obsession with sexual violation. What they’re hoping we won’t notice is the fact that their party is politically committed to sexual violation.
Opposition to abortion in all cases – rape, incest, even to save the pregnant woman’s life or health – is written into the Republican party platform. Realizing they can’t make abortion illegal overnight, conservatives instead rally around smaller initiatives like mandatory waiting periods, transvaginal ultrasounds and mandated lectures about “life” to make abortion as expensive, difficult and humiliating as possible.
Republicans bow to the demands of “pro-life” organizations, not a single one of which supports even birth control, and the GOP now routinely opposes any effort to make birth control or sexual education available and accessible. They propose laws that would require women to tell their employers what they’re using birth control for, so that employers could determine which women don’t deserve coverage (the slutty ones who use birth control to avoid unwanted pregnancy) and which women do (the OK ones who use it for other medical reasons).
Mainstream GOP leaders, including Mitt Romney, campaign with conservative activists who lament the fact that women today no longer fully submit to the authority of their husbands and fathers, mourn a better time when you could legally beat your wife, and celebrate the laws of places like Saudi Arabia where men are properly in charge. Senate Republicans, including Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan and “legitimate rape” Todd Akin, blocked the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. And Ryan and Akin joined forces again to propose “personhood” legislation in Washington, DC that would define a fertilized egg as a person from the moment sperm meets egg, outlawing abortion in all cases and many forms of contraception, and raising some serious questions about how, exactly, such a law would be enforced.
Underlying the Republican rape comments and actual Republican political goals are a few fundamental convictions: first, women are vessels for childbearing and care-taking; second, women cannot be trusted; and third, women are the property of men.
Mourdock’s statement that conceiving from rape is a gift positions women as receptacles, not as autonomous human beings. This view of women as vessels – vessels for sex with their husbands, vessels for carrying a pregnancy, vessels for God’s plan – is a necessary component of the kind of extreme anti-abortion legislation most Republican politicians support.
So is the idea that women are both fundamentally unintelligent and dishonest. Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment and Rivard’s contention that “some girls rape easy” rely on the idea that women routinely lie about rape and shouldn’t be believed; blocking VAWA relied partly on similar logic put forward by men’s rights activists, that women lie about being abused in order to secure citizenship and other benefits. Hostility to abortion rights similarly positions rightwing lawmakers as the best people to determine whether or not any particular woman should be legally compelled to carry a pregnancy to term.
Women, they seem to think, don’t know their own bodies or their own lives, and cannot be trusted to determine for themselves whether continuing a pregnancy is a good idea.
Rape treats women as vessels, disregarding our autonomy and our right to control what happens to us physically and sexually. The Republican position is that women are not entitled to make fundamental decisions about our own bodies and our own sexual and reproductive health. When that position is written into the GOP platform and is a legislative priority, can we really be surprised when it’s further reflected in Republican legislators’ comments on rape?
These aren’t a few errant remarks from insensitive politicians. They’re at the heart of the Republican party’s agenda.