Boot Camps for Talking about Abortion

Decision making 101

“Rape,” the instructors say, “is a four-letter word. Purge it from your lexicon.” And as to anything else abortion-related, “Keep it brief.”

Such is the strategy reportedly being taught Republican candidates in “Boot Camps” on how to talk about abortion. This news came in a recent New York Times article by Jeremy Peters.

But in case the reports are not clear, or should anti-abortion strategists need help, this space herewith offers an outline for surefire future political Boot Camps:

Avoidance is #1. Just don’t talk.

If you actually start talking, and talk about women, it becomes problematic to take away their rights. Say as little as possible. Candidates who do try to say more than two sentences tend to trip up on “legitimate rape” blunders or “abortion causes cancer” misstatements. Therefore, it’s best to talk only about fetuses, call them “babies,” speak only in tiny sound bites, and then shut up.

These are the recommended sound bites:

We mustn’t kill babies. Abortion hurts women.

These are the messages that get votes. Unfortunately, they are untrue, and thus difficult to defend. But if you say no more than seven or eight words, say them over and over and avoid actual dialog, enough people will believe the words to get you or your candidate elected.

But please, definitely, avoid:

Discussion of the difference between ‘fetus’ and ‘baby.’ Some voters do not believe a fetus becomes a baby until it is born. There are also too many very smart scientists who do not believe that tiny fetuses feel pleasure or pain.

You must also avoid the stories.

Stories told by 12- and 13-year-olds who were raped by a favorite uncle or family friend and might then have to endure the further brutality of continuing the pregnancy he caused – these stories make people think that abortion decisions might not be so simple. Or that banning abortion might not make it go away.

Stick to the script. Those stories cannot be told in eight words.

Stories in general just cause trouble. Avoid stories of pregnant women without jobs and with more children than they can care for already, or stories of pregnant women too poor to travel 300 miles to a clinic, or women with physical or emotional problems whose lives are being wrecked by unintended pregnancies…or stories of mothers and fathers facing the wrenching prospect of bringing a baby into the world who will suffer terribly and quickly die. Voters with a compassion gene might question your intention to force all these women to give birth.

And above all, avoid talking about women.

Women, when told what they may or may not do with their bodies, can become unruly. Enough unruly women can derail your election plans.

Rape doesn’t cause pregnancy? Excuse me?

Trent Franks
Trent Franks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, according to Rep. Trent Franks, the incidence of pregnancy resulting from rape is negligible, so probably we don’t need to consider allowing abortion when rape or incest is involved.  Franks is not big on considering women at all, or the issues women face.

Franks would have us consider only the fetus. His Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, currently being discussed by himself and a lot of mostly men in Washington, would ban abortion after 22 weeks.

Franks was himself unborn when I became pregnant after an incidence of workplace rape. Such occurrences are probably less common today, progress having been made in workplace protection since 1958. But I would be willing to bet they still happen. I wonder if Franks cares. I wonder if he has heard about sexual abuses in the military? Or unreported date rape? They happen; unintended pregnancies happen.  I wonder if Franks is able to get his mind around the fact that there is a woman before there is a zygote?

I appreciate Franks’ concern with the unborn; I just want him to consider the already-born. They are real, live women facing difficult, complex issues that no one — NO ONE — could possibly understand but they themselves.

Abortion is a difficult and complex issue. I personally wish it would never be necessary. But for Franks and his fellow ideologues to inch it back toward criminalization, as they would like, is a violation of the basic rights of the women whose existence they prefer to ignore.

Juries of our peers

If I were on trial, I’d want someone like me – having worked hard to be open-minded throughout my entire good-citizenship career – for one of my jurors. But not for the jury to which I was just summoned. The prosecution may have wanted me; the defense would’ve had me outa there in a heartbeat.

It was a fascinating exercise. For openers, the giant jury assembly room was nearly filled, all of us summoned for this one trial. We were all duly sworn in on the spot, and eventually the judge and two main attorneys appeared. This case, the judge said, could be unpleasant for some, and complicated for others, and they hoped to sort it all out before getting down to business the next day. She then read out the form: a questionnaire about you the juror. Have you ever been sexually assaulted? Do you know anyone who has? And questions to that effect.

Here’s what the deal seemed to be: A woman had been abused by a guy. It didn’t seem to be rape; it seemed to be everything else. Kidnapping with intent to commit rape. Maybe attempted rape. Even attempted arousal for purposes of who knows what. The trial, if the judge’s overview was any indication, would turn on who you believed, and how far is too far. In the 1950s, when I had my own trials (physical/emotional, not judicial) with date rape/workplace rape of this exact sort, women had little power and less choice. Today it can come down to who has real power and who has real choice. Did she really go somewhere with him willingly? Did she say No? Did he listen?

Sorry guys, unless she’s 6′ tall and outweighs him by 40 pounds, I am going to lean toward the lady. Handily having a disabled husband to look after, I begged hardship exemption.

Hopefully, for plaintiff and defendant both, a jury of their peers was seated the next day.

 

Two rapes, two unhappy endings

Several generations ago, at a college in Northern Virginia, a young woman I’ll call Hannah woke up in a fraternity house bedroom very early one morning, a party still going on downstairs. She remembered, vaguely, going upstairs with a young man she barely knew. She couldn’t remember what she had had to drink, other than too much of it; she couldn’t remember why she had gone with him — she didn’t even find him particularly attractive — or much of anything else except that she had tried to fight him off and been raped.

Hannah managed to get downstairs and go home. She was filled with remorse and recrimination. She told no one, she said, until she shared the story with me three years later. It never occurred to her to cry foul, because in those days it was pretty much okay for young men to “sew wild oats” but too bad if an unwilling woman reaped the results. It was unacceptable for young women to complain, since it was either the woman’s responsibility to look after herself or the woman’s fault that things “got out of hand.” As soon as she found she was not pregnant, Hannah told me, she “just tried to put it out of mind.”

Some things have changed, some things are better, some things stay the same. Here’s a story by Amanda Hess in today’s Washington City Paper, forwarded to me by a friend. It’s about another “Hannah,” in another, but contemporary, college story that happened not far from the one above.

On Saturday, Dec. 9, 2006, Hannah* woke up in her Howard University dorm room with a piece of her life missing. Hannah, a 19-year-old sophomore, had unexplained pain in her rectum and hip. Her panty liner, which she had worn the night before, was missing. Vomit dotted her gloves and coat. Her friend Kerston lay beside her in the skinny dorm room bed. Kerston told Hannah not to shower—they had to go back to the hospital to secure a rape kit. That weekend, Hannah claims that she was provided the following excuses for why she could not receive a sexual assault medical forensic examination: She was drunk; she ate a sandwich; she was a liar; she didn’t know her attacker’s last name; the police had to authorize the exam; she was outside the hospital’s jurisdiction; she wasn’t reporting a real crime; she was blacked out; she changed her story; her case was already closed.

This is the story of the night Hannah was not officially raped. And so far, Hannah has not officially accused anyone of raping her. In the summer of 2007, she filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia, Howard University Hospital, George Washington University Hospital, both universities, and several doctors she says denied or interfered with her medical care. She seeks damages for medical malpractice and negligence from the medical defendants and the D.C. police, which she says resulted in “the probable loss of the opportunity to see her assailant brought to justice.” Across the board, the defendants denied Hannah’s claims. The parties in the case, which has yet to go to trial, were not interviewed for this story; this account is reconstructed from sworn deposition testimony taken in Hannah’s suit.

The now-elderly Hannah never speaks of her experience. The contemporary Hannah is filled with anger and a sense of injustice. The contemporary story is complex and unlikely to come to any satisfactory conclusion… but then, these stories seldom do.

Test Case: You’re Not a Rape Victim Unless Police Say So – Washington City Paper.