Now that the Supreme Court permits states to outlaw abortion, Republican state legislators are bitterly split over whether abortion bans should include exceptions in cases of rape. This is a pointless political fight. Laws forbidding abortion often force women to bear their rapists’ babies. If you don’t want to do that, don’t support abortion prohibitions.
For many years, an overwhelming majority of Americans have supported such exceptions. That includes most of those who generally oppose abortion. About a quarter of Americans think abortion should be illegal in most cases but want the law to make exceptions for rape.
But raped women often find it difficult to invoke them. Now that there is no constitutional protection for abortion, most state prohibitions don’t have any rape exceptions at all. The minority that do typically require the victim to file a police report.
Most victims, however, know their assailants and many fear retaliation if they talk to the police. Criminal complaints are rare (in most such cases no one is arrested), and there are convictions in about 2 percent of cases. Most women know that rape can be hard to prove, that victims are often disbelieved and that if they tell what happened they risk being stigmatized and mistreated by their friends, family, communities and the police. That’s why most rapes are never reported.
Some rape exceptions are unworkably vague. Mississippi requires that “a formal charge of rape has been filed with an appropriate law enforcement official” but doesn’t say who is “appropriate.” Others require doctors to verify rape without saying how they are to do it, while warning…Read More
Andrew Koppelman, John Paul Stevens Professor of Law at Northwestern University, is the author of “Burning Down the House: How Libertarian Philosophy Was Corrupted by Delusion and Greed” (St. Martin’s Press). Follow him on Twitter @AndrewKoppelman.