For those who have a sick love of watching clueless Republicans shoot themselves in the foot, the battle over a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks is delicious stuff. In sum, some Republican women basically shamed the House into dropping the vote for the bill, mostly because they’re worried it’s going to kick off another “legitimate rape” debacle as male Republicans go on cable TV to brag about the bill and are asked to explain why they only allow for rape exceptions if the victims have reported to the police.
What’s really amazing about this story is that Rep. Renee Ellmers and other female Republicans were pretty much guaranteed to support the bill if the male Republicans allowed for what is really a minor tweak in the language, allowing the rape exception to cover all rape victims, not just the minority that file police reports. After all, this bill is just a symbolic gesture, a wet kiss to the Bible-thumpers amassing on the Hill today for the annual rite of lady-hating sex phobia known as the March for Life. Obama was going to veto it anyway. They had nothing to lose by expanding the definition of “rape” to mean any time a man forces sex on a woman. In fact, they should have welcomed the change, because the original language would have meant reporters asking male Republicans why they require women to file police reports to be believed, which in turn means someone was bound to start talking about “legitimate rape”. Ellmers is hardly some kind of political genius. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where this was headed.
So I’m forced to conclude the reason that so many male Republicans were unwilling to concede this teeny weeny issue is that it was really important to them to pass a bill that formally suggests that women frequently lie about being raped and should be assumed to be lying until a man, in this case a police officer, blesses her account of what happened.
Let’s be extremely clear here. No man is put in danger of losing his freedom over this. It’s not a due process issue. It is completely impossible for the exception Ellmers was offering to hurt any man, innocent or guilty, ever. If you tell your doctor that someone raped you, that accusation need not even leave the doctor’s office. The rapist in question may never even know it happened. So the legitimate concerns about due process are not at issue here. This is just Republican men taking a symbolic stand in favor of the myth that women just love lying about rape.
As I’ve noted before, I think Republicans, at least the men, are aligning themselves more and more with the overt misogyny of the online cadre of weirdoes who call themselves “men’s rights activists” (MRAs), and who are way more interested in discrediting domestic violence and rape victims than they are the issue of abortion. While these men talk a lot about due process and “innocent until proven guilty”, their actions instead suggest that they aren’t motivated by the civil rights of the accused so much as a desire to squelch efforts at preventing and reducing violence and harassment. That’s why they harass and intimidate women who haven’t filed any charges whatsoever. Or, in some cases, even when the women go out of their way to protect the identity of the rapist. The goal is to keep women from speaking out so that the harassment and abuse can continue without interruption.
That’s why so many MRAs go well beyond just demanding the presumption of innocence in court for the accused, which no one opposes, and push for a generalized assumption of guilt for women—that women are guilty of lying until they can be proven innocent. This narrow rape exception in the bill is reflexive of that sort of thinking. It’s about forcing doctors to basically accuse patients of lying about rape without a single shred of evidence that they are lying.
So there you have it. Republican men screwed over the anti-choicers to pander to the MRAs. That’s fascinating and frankly not a little disturbing.
Updated to add: Meant to point to this earlier, but Dave Weigel’s reporting on this is really interesting. Lindsay Graham has taken to begging anti-choicers to help Republicans find a way to help them push this idea that some rapes aren’t real rapes. “I’m going to need your help to find a way out of this definitional problem with rape,” said Graham. Which is a way to say that they’re desperate for some wording that allows them to classify some forms of forcible sexual intercourse as somehow not-rape, but in a way that avoids sounding like they hate women. Which is impossible, of course. But hey, if they’re trying, they should ask George Will to take the lead in making a long list of rapes they want to say shouldn’t count as rapes. Because if your ex-boyfriend can’t show up at your house and forcibly impregnate you with the assurance that Republicans have his back, what is this world coming to?