Abortion in cases of rape: new rifts in old debate
Poll after poll over many years has shown that Americans overwhelmingly support legal access to abortion for women impregnated by rape. Yet the issue remains divisive, as demonstrated by two current rifts — one involving U.S. aid policy overseas, the other highlighting strategy differences within the U.S. anti-abortion movement.
The National Right to Life Committee recently voted to cut ties with one of its most zealous state affiliates, Georgia Right to Life. The move, which angered many anti-abortion activists nationwide, came after the affiliate defied instructions to endorse an anti-abortion bill in Congress because it included exceptions for rape and incest.
Georgia Right to Life’s president, Dan Becker, described the March 29 ouster as “a tragedy” but said his group would stick by its 14-year-old policy of consistently opposing exceptions for rape and incest. “GRTL will stand true to its mission and not be swayed by the prevailing political winds,” Becker said.
David O’Steen, executive director of National Right to Life, said his group and Becker’s share a long-term goal of eliminating abortion. But short-term, he said, the national group is willing to support legislation that reduces the number of abortions, even if they have rape and incest exceptions.
Meanwhile, a loose coalition of abortion-rights and women’s-rights activists is growing increasingly frustrated with President Barack Obama’s administration. Despite years of lobbying, the activists have failed to persuade Obama to issue an executive order stipulating that U.S. foreign aid — though prohibited by Congress from subsidizing abortions as a method of family planning — could be used to provide abortions for women raped in wars.
The New York-based Global Justice Center, leading the push for an executive order, says many thousands of woman have been impregnated by rapists during recent conflicts in Rwanda, Bosnia, Congo, Syria and elsewhere, and yet most major international humanitarian organizations balk at offering abortions for fear of jeopardizing their U.S. funding.
The two controversies are notable in part because the American public is not closely divided on the issue of abortion access for rape victims. National polls taken since the 1970s consistently have shown that at least 70 percent of Americans support such access, and less than 25 percent oppose it.