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Why the Texas Abortion Law Is Particularly Damaging to Incest and Rape Survivors

Last week, the Supreme Court allowed Texas to institute a law that bans abortions beyond six weeks into a pregnancy. The law has no exceptions for rape or incest victims and it allows for any private citizen to sue any Texas abortion facility that violates the law, as well as anyone who aids and abets a woman getting an abortion, although the law doesn’t actually allow for the abortion patient themselves to be sued. The person who brings the lawsuit to court and wins is entitled to at least $10,000 in damages and does not have to have any connection whatsoever to the woman getting the abortion. It is to date the strictest and most punitive anti-abortion legislation to go into effect, seriously threatening the future of Roe V. Wade. 

While there is a debate to be had more generally about the implications of this law to women’s reproductive health and autonomy (particularly considering that many women don’t even know that they are pregnant until well after the six-week cutoff), for the purposes of this article I’d like to focus upon the lack of any kind of exemptions in cases of rape or incest. According to RAINN, on average 463,634 individuals are victims of rape or sexual assault annually. Their statistics only include individuals over the age of 12 as there are no reliable sources documenting the preponderance of rape or incest amongst younger children. The study goes on to assert that the percentage of these assaults that results in pregnancy ranges between 3.1 and 5%; with an average of 250,000 rapes or sexual assaults of females of childbearing age in the U.S. annually accounts for somewhere between 7,750 and 12,500 pregnancies. These estimates are considered to be low due to the lack of reporting of incidents of rape and sexual assaults, particularly amongst children and adolescents.

The study goes on to document the number of these victims who go on to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attempt suicide, use drugs or other illicit substances and experience difficulty in interpersonal relationships. It specifies that victims of sexual assault go on to report moderate to severe stress in higher percentages than those of any other violent crime.

This does not surprise me as a survivor of childhood sexual assault. The long-term effects that my own abuse has had upon my life are almost incalculable. Sexual assault robs its victims of any sense of safety, autonomy or control over one’s body. Not only do I experience long-term symptoms of PTSD including intrusive memories of the assaults and chronic nightmares, but my ability to experience any kind of sexual satisfaction with my spouse has been damaged by the seemingly insurmountable shame I feel whenever I experience any kind of pleasure in my body. It’s like all ownership of my body was ripped away from me without my consent and 35 years later, I am still struggling to reclaim it as my own.

And yet, I consider myself one of the lucky ones. My assault did not result in me becoming pregnant. I cannot imagine the additional layer of trauma and angst that I would have experienced if I knew that not only had my body been violated by a criminal, but now I was carrying that criminal’s child within my damaged body. Having a child can and should be a beautiful experience chosen because one is ready and willing to become a parent. It should never be forced upon someone who didn’t want to become pregnant, cannot afford to be pregnant, may not be equipped mentally or physically to be pregnant or is too young to safely carry a child to term.

Becoming a mother isn’t just a matter of conception. Pregnancy is a long, grueling experience that changes a woman’s body forever. And once a baby is born, the task of raising a child is Herculean and costly. Even if a child is put up for adoption, the damage to a woman’s body and mind has already been done. In my opinion, it is a double violation of these females’ bodies and minds — once during the assault and then again for the duration of the pregnancy. The implications of this are monumental not just in terms of long-term mental health, but in terms of education, work opportunities, finances, relationships and possible physical damage. It’s unacceptable and inhumane to impose this burden upon anyone.

Abortion is never something a woman considers lightly. The reasons for seeking out an abortion are too numerous to recount here, although I personally know several women who have had to make this decision and live with it daily. While their stories are not mine to tell, I know that their experiences were and continue to be emotionally and mentally excruciating.

The restrictions in this law are fundamental human rights violations, myopic and ultimately will result in unconscionable human suffering for those affected and their unwanted children. I also take great exception to the idea that someone who doesn’t even know a woman or why she is seeking out an abortion can profit off of her suffering. By this token, the assailant could violate a female sexually, impregnate her, then report her for seeking an abortion and get $10,000 for their egregious actions. It’s sickening and infuriating. 

What kind of just society thinks this is acceptable? How does this represent a system of government where all of its citizens are intended to have equal rights under the law? Apparently, if you are unfortunate enough to be born with a uterus and become one of those who is a victim of sexual violence resulting in pregnancy, your “inalienable rights” no longer matter, at least not in Texas. This cannot become the norm. Our society fails victims of sexual violence in so many ways already, from statutes of limitations to the difficulty of getting a conviction in a court of law on charges of sexual assault. We cannot allow them to be further demeaned and tortured by a draconian law like this. Speak out, contact your legislators, and above all vote like your life depends on it because if you are female… it does.

Photo by Camden & Hailey George on Unsplash