Florida To Make Rape Victims Show 'Proof' Before They Can Get An Abortion
Florida is about to pass a bill making abortions illegal after six weeks. As the average menstrual cycle is about four weeks long (though a "normal" menstrual cycle can be as long as five weeks) and pregnancy tests are not really accurate until a week after one's missed period, this means that many people will have not much more than a week after finding out they are pregnant to decide whether or not they want an abortion, make an appointment with a doctor to have an abortion and have the abortion. This will be extra difficult if that one Texas judge ends up making medication abortions illegal and surgical abortions are the only option.
But they're not entirely cold-hearted there in the Florida legislature. They're even carving out an exception to allow rape victims to have abortions up to fifteen weeks into their pregnancy. How gracious of them! How thoughtful! Except for the fact that they are also requiring those rape victims to offer proof that they were raped in order to be granted the exception.
While they are not requiring that victims bring in a bloody white sheet, in order to get the exception they will have to provide a "restraining order, police report, medical record or other court order or documentation providing evidence that she is obtaining the termination of pregnancy because she is a victim of rape or incest."
This legislation was clearly not written by anyone who has ever tried to obtain a restraining order for any reason. I know at least two women who have been victims of stalking who tried to get a restraining order against their stalkers and were told by the judge that "the poor guy" just has a crush on them. It's also unlikely it was written by anyone who has been the victim of sexual assault.
Only about 20 percent of rape victims even report to the police. One would have to imagine that this number is even lower for victims of incest, given that their assailant is also likely to be the person providing them with food and shelter.
80 percent of rape victims know their attacker, and for college students that goes up to 85-90 percent. This can make reporting these assaults complicated for victims. Not to mention the fact that many victims just straight up do not want to deal with police, who frequently treat victims like they are the ones who committed a crime (particularly since the vast, vast majority of reported rapes are ever actually prosecuted).
The Orlando Sentinel asked several experts on sexual violence what they thought of this rule. Not surprisingly, they did not think it was great.
The paperwork requirement would further distress rape victims, who often don’t file reports with law enforcement and the authorities, said Kim S. Ménard, a Penn State Altoona criminal justice professor who studies sexual violence.
“It is appalling,” she said. “It sets up incredible barriers. Most of the time victims don’t have the strength, given the stigma society puts on them, to come forward, period — to come forward for the most basic help.”
Jennifer Dritt, executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, said lawmakers didn’t consult with her group representing 29 rape crisis centers across the state when crafting the bill’s language.
“It demonstrates a complete lack of understanding that most victims of sexual assault don’t report,” she said. “This exception is meaningless, and it is harmful.”
There's another issue here as well that is, unfortunately, worth considering. People who are pregnant and do not want to be are in a desperate situation. While false reports of rape are rare, it's not entirely out of bounds to assume that someone might be so desperate to have an abortion that they file a false police report in order to get one. And Florida does not exactly have the greatest track record in the world when it comes to wrongful convictions.
This exception is not about protecting victims. It has nothing to do with protecting victims. It is about protecting legislators. Legislators who know that the public, including the vast majority of Republican voters, generally does not enjoy the idea of forcing rape and incest victims to have their assailant's children and want to be able to cover their asses when it is time for reelection campaigns. That's all this is. They want to ease the minds of people who will not think too deeply about these matters (also the vast majority of Republican voters).
While the legislature (and the Governor) is extreme on this issue, Floridians are not. A poll last year found that 67 percent of Florida voters want abortion to be legal in all or most circumstances, which actually makes them more supportive of abortion rights than Americans as a whole. Only 61 percent of us believe abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances. Another poll found that only 9 percent of Floridians believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.
Whether this will affect the next election, given Florida's gerrymandering situation, is still anyone's guess.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse