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A Foolish Consistency

Susan Estrich on

In the years after Roe v. Wade, even the most ardent opponents of abortion supported an exception for rape, incest or the life of the mother. Even the Hyde Amendment, which singles out abortion as the only medically necessary service for which there is no Medicaid funding, includes an exception for rape and incest.

All that is changing, and will continue to change, if today's anti-abortion movement has its way. And they are getting their way.

There is no exception for rape and incest in the laws prohibiting abortion in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas. The Mississippi law, which is at the center of the current Supreme Court case, permits an abortion in cases of rape but does not specify incest.

What possible reason is there for forcing a woman who is the victim of incest to bear a child?

What kind of cruelty would require a girl who was raped to carry that pregnancy?

Former President Ronald Reagan supported these exceptions. So did former President Donald Trump. So do large majorities of all Americans.

The irony is that as support for Roe v. Wade has grown, and it has, the anti-choice right has hardened its minority position in a move that puts them at odds with the majority of Americans.

But the majority of Americans don't vote in Republican primaries. Hardcore ideologues do, and the hardcore ideologues don't believe in any exceptions. And they have taken control of the Republican Party.

 

To be sure, their position is "consistent." If life begins at birth, then only a real threat to the life of the mother would justify ending another life. But it is the sort of foolish consistency that is famously small-minded. Humanity and decency matter, too. As a rape victim, I find it intolerable that there would be no exception. As a mother, I find it cruel. But I'm not the voter that they are talking to.

And while all the bans have some exception if the mother's life is actually endangered, her health -- physical and mental -- is not enough.

On what planet do legislators cruising for votes know better what a girl in a hellish situation should do than the girl and her doctor?

One of the sponsors of such legislation is quoted in The New York Times as saying that he did so because he knows victims of rape and incest who regret the decision to abort. Well, I can tell you I know countless victims who are horrified by the very thought of carrying such a pregnancy to term. What will they do next? Prohibit hospitals from giving the morning-after pill to victims? And what happens to all those victims, and this is particularly true of nonstranger rape and of incest, who never see the inside of a hospital because they never report the crime? Must they now prove that their lives are endangered? And the doctors must risk their livelihood and liberty if they believe them?

The anti-abortion movement has succeeded, by their lights, in making it very difficult for the most vulnerable women to exercise their constitutional right to control their bodies. A host of regulations, upheld even under Roe, make it far more difficult to get an abortion than, say, it is to get a gun. Middle-class women in urban areas who can afford to take a day off of work have access to abortions in the big cities where they live. Poor women, young girls and rural families lack access. If the anti-Roe forces have their way, you can add rape and incest victims to that list. The majority in America supports Roe and opposes absolute bans; the question is whether that support will be a voting issue come November. The Republican minority is betting that it won't.

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