(Content note: Rape/sexual assault, forced pregnancy, abortion, and Republicans.)
Last election season, Republicans got into a lot of trouble over their constant harping about how they wanted to force rape victims to gestate any pregnancies resulting from the assaults upon them. History is repeating itself, and I strongly suspect that there’s actually a reason why Republicans simply cannot let go of this disturbing obsession of theirs with forcing women to endure such pregnancies.
A Short History of Team Rape.
In 2012, Todd Akin famously introduced us to Team Rape with a statement about how he wanted to criminalize abortion in all circumstances, because, in his studied opinion, if a woman was “legitimately raped” then she couldn’t possibly get pregnant. He got in a boatload of trouble for that assertion, eventually losing his Missouri Senate race to a Democrat.
When people wondered what a “legitimate” rape might be, Republicans had a ready answer for that question thanks to the right-wing Christians dominating the party. A “legitimate” rape is one that fits into the narrative of what rape looks like in right-wing Christian culture: a violent rape committed by an evil stranger who grabs a sweet, pure, virginal, innocent Christian Bible College student on her way home from choir practice and rapes her in the bushes. It is not acquaintance or partner rape, which these Christians insist (as Pensacola Christian College did, according to numerous victims) can only happen if the woman in question has “led on” her attacker somehow, and it certainly is not marital rape, which these Christians largely think is categorically impossible because wives’ bodies are literally considered the owned property of their husbands.
Rick Santorum, around the same time, was busily explaining that rape victims who get pregnant should be thankful that something good came out of their assaults, by which he meant a cute little baby. He told Piers Morgan that rape victims should consider any resulting pregnancies a gift from his god. He shocked a lot of people, but he was very likely saying these horrific things for the same reason Mr. Akin was.
Todd Akin and Rick Santorum were declaring allegiance to the idea that only rapes that follow their imagined narrative should evoke any sympathy or earn any formal legal response. But they were also signaling their embracing of their tribe’s longtime view that women’s consent is irrelevant in the question of whether or not their bodies will be used by others. These politicians were saying that they agree that women belong to their fathers and then to their husbands, and whenever pregnant to any fetuses they conceive. Women’s rights, needs, and desires take second place behind anyone and everyone who might make a claim upon their bodies, time, attention, love, or care. One would sooner ask one’s shoes if they consent to being worn that day, or one’s vehicle if it is all right to drive it to work and back.
This message resonated across the country with the people who were meant to hear it: fundagelicals and hardline Catholics, who are about the only people who vote for Republicans these days.
These two men were only part of a batch of Republicans who kept talking and talking about rape and abortion that election cycle. One news site declared that the party was “obsessed with rape,” offering up dozens of scary and infuriating quotes from Republicans on the topic, where we learned that one politician thought that rape kits “cleaned out” victims so they couldn’t get pregnant; another wanted a law passed allowing him to charge rape victims seeking abortions with the crime of tampering with evidence, meaning the rapist’s DNA; and another declared that well golly, some girls “rape so easy” that nobody should take them seriously, meaning that he thought women lie about rape in order to access abortion care (another myth his tribemates tend to readily believe), which was why he opposed exceptions of any kind–to deny those lying liarpants hussies any possible escape route from their sin’s “consequences.”
Paul Ryan strongly implied that rape was simply “another method of conception” so there was no need for an exception for rape victims, and then teamed up with Todd Akin to try to criminalize abortion harder than ever. Indiana candidate Richard Mourdock decided that any pregnancies conceived in rape were “a gift from God,” and he enjoyed an endorsement by Mitt Romney himself. Steve King of Iowa sneered at the very idea of a woman getting pregnant by rape since he hadn’t ever heard of it happening. (I’m sure I simply can’t imagine why.)
Jezebel called the entire lot of them “Team Rape” and exulted in sharing how poor a showing most of these theocratic jackasses made in elections that year.
The next year, another Team Rape member in good standing, Trent Franks, tried to ban all abortions after 20 weeks, eliminating rape exceptions, saying that pregnancies produced by rape were so vanishingly rare that nobody needed to protect the rights of pregnant rape victims** (who number in the tens of thousands of women a year, incidentally–like he cares!) or help these victims escape what to many of them would be the unspeakable, abyssal nightmare of being forced to bear a rapist’s baby. And yes, he drew a storm of criticism–but Mr. Franks did not care, because, like Todd Akin and all the others before him, he was likely making this stand for a specific and strategic reason.
Whatever one might say about the morality of the strategy, he’s pinned his hopes very firmly to it. “You say tomato, he says ‘abortion,'” proclaimed the Phoenix New Times, putting Mr. Franks 3rd on their list of the Top 10 Weirdest Members of Congress and asserting that his entire career has been devoted to criminalizing abortion and ranting about it at every opportunity. Arizona keeps electing this wingnut, which says a lot more about Arizona voters than it does about his general acceptability as a Congressperson and overall decent human being, but he’s not going to discard a strategy he thinks works.
Thankfully, it’s not a universally-successful strategy. After seeing a huge backlash against the whole Republican party, humiliating losses in several national-level elections that really shouldn’t have been losses, and two presidencies lost, Republicans devised a new strategy: they were going to try not talking so much about rape, even though their position was even more extremist at that point than it had been in previous years, and was getting more so by the minute.
Even then, politicians could not shut their goddamned pieholes for five goddamned minutes about rape and abortion. It’s like they were incapable of restraining themselves.
In 2014 we had another bumper crop of Jesus-smile-wearing, preacher-eyebrows-squinting Republicans making ridiculously ignorant and cruel statements about abortion while pushing some of the most stringent laws yet against it, like Lawrence Lockman, a Maine State Representative who famously insisted that if abortion was going to stay legal, then rape should be legalized as well. Despite calls for this “disturbed” politician’s resignation, he scraped together a victory in the elections later that year.
In the recent clown car debates among Republican candidates squabbling over the Presidential nomination, they’re still trying hard to outdo each other on how extremist a position can possibly be found opposing abortion, which includes eliminating the exceptions that even most “pro-life” Americans want reserved for rape and incest victims. Scott Walker tried to carve out a spot for himself at the top of the list by declaring that therapeutic abortions (which are medically-required abortions typically done to spare the life of the mother or to remove a doomed fetus from her body) aren’t real and are only used as a ploy by evil liberals to kill babies. And this was the least extremist and morbidly tasteless tactic on display.
At this point, anybody who seriously thinks that the Grand Old Party is currently about anything but getting themselves a Christian theocracy in place is delusional. Abortion–banning it no matter what, no matter how, and no matter who–is what Republicans are focusing on, with side forays into racism and bigotry against LGBTQ people. They seem totally convinced that the candidate who emerges as the most scarily-fanatical extremist on the subject of stripping Americans women’s bodily rights from them is going to be the person who gets the nomination from the party.
Worse, I can’t even say they’re wrong.
When Lindsey Graham tries be the voice of reason by telling Republicans that they are getting way too weird about this whole obsession they have with forcing women to bear rape-conceived babies, the party has gone off the deep end.
What In Nine Shades of Smoking Hell Is Even Going On Here?
Very little upsets toxic Christians as much as women having unapproved sex, but the one thing I guarantee you upsets them even worse is losing their imagined control of America.
No wonder such Christians seem as obsessed with rape as they do with abortion. Just as rape is more an expression of control and dominance than of sexual desire, the abortion approval rate in America is a measurement of how solid right-wing Christians’ control of this country is. The more people they can get to buy into the idea that women’s bodies are public property and that women’s consent to bodily violation can be overridden, the more general control they have over America.*
Add to this another false narrative of theirs about abortion being something that “sluts” merrily and unthinkingly rush off to do to “escape the consequences” of all that unapproved sex they keep having, and the sheer rage these Christians clearly feel at their continuing loss of male and Christian dominance, and their tooth-and-nail fight against abortion begins to look like an opportunistic tool for Christian leaders to use to whip their gullible flocks into a frothing frenzy–which hopefully will get more of their audience to the polls in support of Republican lawmakers’ bids for power.
Keep in mind that these culture-warriors haven’t made much impact on abortion rates, any more than they care about miscarriages (which far, far outnumber elective abortions by orders of magnitude). I don’t even think “saving babies” is the real goal, or ever was. Even forced-birther men who trumpet to the skies their desire to strip away abortion rights seem perfectly content to strong-arm and bully their wives and mistresses into getting abortions, as Tennessee Republican Scott DesJarlais did several times in between voting for draconian anti-abortion bills for everyone who isn’t him. Christian men don’t seem all that upset about abortions that personally benefit them, knowledge which may have led to the making of the cringe-inducing “The Apology” video in which fundagelical men pout, squint meaningfully at the camera, and whine about how awful it is that they allowed their female partners to get abortions.
I don’t use that term “allowed” lightly up there, either; the men in this video make it quite clear that they think that their partners’ abortions were decisions they could have overridden had they so chosen. In other words, they think that the women they were sleeping with would have been obligated to obey them if they had put up a serious fight about the decision to abort. Their hilariously overwrought and self-important “apologies” don’t make sense unless the viewer buys into the idea that these men had some kind of right and obligation to stop their partners from having abortions–and moreover that they had (or even deserved) some kind of veto power over what another human being decided would and wouldn’t be allowed inside her own body.
The problem for these Christians isn’t the “death” of a fetus; it’s that the woman carrying that fetus is the one who is making the decision to keep or abort it, instead of her male master or Christians’ imaginary friend in the sky.
Women are up-ending right-wing Christians’ entire world by embracing this right to decide what will happen to their own bodies. A woman who knows she owns her own body is one who is very unlikely to give in to extremist Christians’ demand that she serve men as an inferior second-class citizen and allow them to control every aspect of her life.
Christians will fight this massive cultural change to their last breath, because they know that the higher women’s rights rise toward equality with men, the more doomed their entire social system is.
A Dread War Producing Dread Results.
If this culture war wasn’t producing such horrific fallout, like one recent study that discovered that many thousands of Texas women, in the face of super-strict anti-abortion laws, are trying to induce their own abortions using risky and potentially lethal means, the ineffectiveness of forced-birthers’ efforts might be laughable.
But these Christian culture-warriors are measuring effectiveness far differently than we would. What seems like a catastrophically stupid and poorly-thought-out campaign tactic to non-right-wing Christians is actually very successful to the people who agree with the ideas being peddled:
Abortion is bad, women cannot be trusted to control their own bodies so men need to take over the job, and America is going to Hell and probably going to get hit by meteors if TRUE CHRISTIANS™ don’t get this situation back in hand ASAP by voting for Republicans.
Team Rape fits into this picture by selling a very specific vision to Christians, one in which women are forced to obey men under the threat of horrific punishments; where men control society and totally dominate women, deciding for those women even the most intimate details of their lives; where Christians direct public policy completely and unilaterally; where power is in the hands of those who Christians think are deserving of it; and where those who do not deserve autonomy have it taken away by those who know better.
Republican leaders are pandering shamelessly to the Christians who ache and yearn for that vision, selling them nothing less than the Happy Christian Illusion in one neat little culture war tied with a bow of blood.
That is why they keep talking about rape in such reprehensible and monstrous ways. They aren’t trying to appeal to outsiders. They know they lost us years ago. No, they’re trying to get their fanbase so excited and angry that they’ll get out to the polls in greater numbers than they are now. This pandering they’re doing is literally their only hope of winning in the next national-level election.
Let that idea swirl in your mental margarita glass for a second.
Feels kinda good, doesn’t it?
But there’s more even than that going on.
When right-wing Christians vote for Rick Santorum–or Mike Huckabee–or Paul Ryan–or Ted Cruz–or Marco “I Get It (No I Don’t)” Rubio–or any of the other politicians on Team Rape, really–they are doing so because they think that these politicians will help them to get America back under their control again. Their god wants Christians (the right kind of Christians, of course: their kind) to own everything they survey. And by declaring a black-or-white, us-or-them, no-compromises position like “no exceptions ever, even for rape victims,” they quietly communicate that their opponents are Not Like Us and so will not help TRUE CHRISTIANS™’ slide into irrelevance in American culture.
Republicans are using women’s bodies and rights as instruments of gaining back the control they think they’ve lost in American society. They are getting more and more desperate, because this is a war they cannot possibly afford to lose for two very important reasons.
First, right-wing Christians are well aware of what being powerless looks like in their broken system. They don’t want to be powerless. If their opponents win this culture war that Christians started, they fear that they will be treated exactly the way they want to treat everyone else.
Second, losing this culture war would say some really bad things about their Dominionist, prosperity-gospel-style theology. It’s really hard to walk back “God said we’d win and will totally help us to do it!” when, well, they lose.
Ultimately, this whole system revolves around keeping and gaining power. If Republican hopefuls could do that by pretending to worship My Little Ponies instead of American!Jesus, then you can bet they’d all be playing “The Magic Inside” at every stump speech they make. Abortion, thanks to decades of hard work on Christian extremists’ part, is an intensely emotional and polarizing topic that accomplishes the goal, so that’s why it gets used as often and as viciously as it does.
They’re doing what they think works, and Republican voters are telling them that yes, yes it does, while not enough Democratic votes exist to tell them to stop doing that.
And that, friends, is why so many Republican politicians are on Team Rape, why they think being on Team Rape is to their benefit, why they won’t be leaving Team Rape anytime soon, and why the rest of us need to get our asses to the polls in each and every election, even in areas where Republican wins are very likely.
* Of course, people’s rights do not depend in the least on how many people approve of anyone having the right in question.
** The same Christians who insist that even if only one human being existed in the world, Jesus still would have died for that person and who demand “conscience exceptions” for the vanishingly few bigots-for-Jesus in public office and the workplace turn around and act that dismissive of the rights of tens of thousands of Americans facing a rape-conceived pregnancy each year. Mind-blowing, really!