State Representative Cathrynn Brown (R) of New Mexico recently introduced a pro-life proposal, House Bill 206, which seeks to criminalize abortions in cases of rape or incest.
Charges would be brought up on the basis of "tampering with evidence" against the rape survivor, her doctor, and her assaulter, should he be found to have influenced her decision.
The bill states, "Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime."
Should the bill pass, the victim would be facing felony charges, which New Mexico requires up to a three year prison sentence.
Rep. Brown has defended the proposal, arguing that her aim is to further punish rapists who would demand an abortion be performed in order to cover up the crime.
She says, "New Mexico needs to strengthen its laws to deter sex offenders. By adding this law in New Mexico, we can help to protect women across our state."
Whether it's the language of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (R) that isolates the concept of "forcible rape," simply looking to limit abortions at all costs, or bills like Brown's that have a myopic focus on punishing the assailant, the GOP continually misses what should be one of the most critical parts of any rape-abortion legislation -- the perspective of the victim.
Brown is right in that there are instances where a rapist may influence or threaten a woman into having an abortion, especially in cases of ongoing sexual assault. But there are also cases where victims of rape choose to terminate their pregnancy on their own. And given that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, we should be fighting to protect New Mexican women's access to make those decisions in private. Terminating a pregnancy is not an easy decision, even under non-abusive circumstances, but every woman should be afforded the right to reach her own conclusion. Thus, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution to addressing such outcomes.
Regardless of how correct Brown's intentions are in targeting the offender, she shouldn't lose sight of the experience of the woman. She should be looking to relieve the emotional burdens in the aftermath of a rape as much as legislatively possible, for this is an experience that from the time of assault, has sadly only just begun.
There's the initial flood of thoughts, worries and regrets, rolling in an out in chaos, finally assembling into some horrific excuse for a to-do list: accepting this new reality, fighting the urge to shower, fearing retaliation, calling the police, finding the assailant, enduring trial and possibly having to decide how to handle an unwanted pregnancy.
Keeping the victim in mind, Brown's job is to preserve that victim's license to manage her emotional burdens, within the boundaries of the law, as she sees fit. Moreover, is a rape any less legitimate if there's no resulting pregnancy? We shouldn't be putting women into the position where the crime against them is considered to be more or less valid depending on whether they carry their baby to term. Whether a rape results in pregnancy is irrelevant to the fact that a rape occurred and is punishable by law. Should Brown take a step back and reevaluate the realities of rape survivors, surely she'd recognize how oblivious her proposal truly is.
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