Regardless of their views on abortion, many students are shaken by recent statements from Republican politicians regarding rape and incest.
On Aug. 19, Todd Akin, a senatorial candidate in Missouri, sparked a firestorm when he answered a question regarding exceptions to abortion in cases of rape. Akin said, “First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
At the Pennsylvania Press Club on Aug. 27, Tom Smith, a senatorial candidate in Pennsylvania, made it clear that he disagreed with Akin’s comments although he agreed that there should be no exception when it came to abortion access.
When pressed by reporters if he would stand by his decision if a family member was pregnant due to rape or incest, he said, “I lived something similar to that with my own family.” Smith later clarified that he was referring to “having a baby out of wedlock” as a similar situation to pregnancy from rape or incest.
College senior Jonathan Skekloff, president of One in Four — an all-male peer-education group on sexual violence — and former executive director of College Republicans, said that the comments really played into the problem of “rape myth.”
“The recent events all together show me and show the members of One in Four that these rape myths are not only apparent on a college campuses but also in a broader world,” he said. “It shows that the need for peer education does not end when we graduate, but extends far beyond as well.”
Catherine Imms, College junior and co-president of Penn for Life, believes that abortion is not the answer to unwanted pregnancy but cases of rape and incest are different circumstances.
“[Rape and incest] are traumatic events that rob women of agency, and the mindset of the victim cannot be expected to be the same as that of a woman who consented. While it is still infinitely preferable that she not get an abortion, I’m not going to pretend that it would be easy — on any level — to make this decision,” she said in an email.
Mike Keramidas, former deputy director for bipartisan events for Penn Democrats, said the statements “show almost this war on women that the Republican party has taken. They are moving backwards in a lot of ways that we have made progress, particular in women’s issues. How far backwards could they possibly go?”
Many members of the GOP have tried to distance themselves from the comments made by their party members. It doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut issue for party members or pro-life advocates. The official stance of the GOP platform includes a tough anti-abortion stance and support for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion, not including exceptions for rape and incest victims.
Imms stressed that the recent comments, even for those who are pro-life, are not an accurate reflection of many pro-life advocates’ ideology. “What’s most bothersome about these comments is that it links the pro-life position to a view of rape that really does not, and should not, reflect what I feel to be the view of most pro-lifers,” she said. “His and Akin’s words perpetuate the notion that the pro-life stance is one bereft of compassion, which I will tirelessly argue is not the case.”