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Republicans, Rape and the Human Stakes of the Election

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By Bob Cesca: It's inconceivable that in the 21st Century we'd be debating the archaic notion of torture in this country as if there was any question about whether it should be used. Now rape has entered the discourse, and there's a very specific reason why it's been so frequently crowbarred into this election cycle. Simply put, with a Romney/Ryan victory, the Republicans would absolutely move to overturn Roe v. Wade and ban abortions at the federal level, combining both a conservative Supreme Court with a constitutional amendment as their primary cudgels. The latter would define personhood as beginning at conception, offering full human rights to zygotes, embryos and fetuses irrespective of the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy, including rape. The former would surely endorse such a move.

This is the marquee election for the anti-choice movement. Anyone who can count and anyone who can look up the status of the Supreme Court justices knows full well that the next president will decide the fate of abortion rights and an entire array of issues.

Justice Scalia is 76 years old, Justice Breyer is 74 and Justice Ginsburg, well, she's a 79-year-old cancer survivor. It's almost a foregone conclusion that the next president will appoint a justice to replace at least Ginsburg, if not both Ginsburg and Scalia. Reasonably speaking, Ginsburg is almost certain. If she retires or passes, and Mitt Romney appoints her successor, the ideological balance of the Bench will shift to five conservatives, one swing vote (Kennedy) and three liberals -- more than enough to decide conservatively on a variety of critical issues. Even if Kennedy were to magically swing left on every decision, it still wouldn't matter. Conservatives would win the day for an entire generation.

However, if President Obama is re-elected and he appoints Ginsburg's successor, the balance remains the same as it is now: four conservatives, one swing vote and four liberals (presumably, Obama would appoint a justice with a liberal record). Better yet, if the president is re-elected and replaces both Ginsburg and Scalia, the Bench would be tipped to five liberals, one swing and three conservatives -- for a generation.

So this isn't just about replacing a justice or two. This is about replacing a justice or two and defining the ideological composition of the Court for the next 10-20 years.

This is precisely why the Republicans are mobilizing around new anti-choice laws at the state level, and this is why the definition of rape has come up more than once, with at least a pair of Republican candidates, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, blurting out the true position of the Republican Party.

The only political way around the rape exception, in both a moral and legal sense, would be to undermine the validity and very definition of rape. Hence, in Congress, Paul Ryan and Akin have attempted to define "forcible rape" -- yet another Republican plot to muddy the language as a means of wedging it into their agenda. In the case of Mourdock, he attempted to cloak rape and a subsequent pregnancy in the guise of God's Will and thus making it somehow divine. Consequently, we have another religious justification to ban abortions including in cases of rape.

The party platform itself and its personhood amendment plank makes no exception for rape, incest or the life of the mother. How could it? If the unborn are defined as persons entitled to 14th Amendment rights by constitutional mandate, abortion have to be outlawed as murder regardless of circumstances. And it's fair to assume that a conservative Supreme Court would fall in line behind it. Needless to say, so would Romney. Last October, Mike Huckabee asked him point blank:

HUCKABEE: Would you have supported a constitutional amendment that would have established the definition of life at conception?

ROMNEY: Absolutely.

Additionally, during the second debate and throughout the campaign, Mitt Romney declared his intention to ban federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Perhaps Romney is unaware that Planned Parenthood provides rape crisis services. It's bad enough that Romney would strip funding for women to receive affordable mammograms and cervical cancer screenings, but to undermine funding for an organization that provides rape crisis services is a special brand of cruelty.

Meanwhile, in addition to its personhood amendment plank, the Republican platform calls for further "informed consent laws," which include transvaginal ultrasounds. Paul Ryan, potentially a heartbeat from the presidency, supports these laws and Romney, when asked in 2007 whether he supports ultrasound laws, said he "believes that states should be free to place restrictions on abortion, and favors measures that protect the sanctity of life." While the Virginia law allows rape and incest victims seeking abortions to decide for themselves whether they want a medical wand inserted into their bodies, other states don't have such exceptions. Megan Carpetier recently underwent the transvaginal ultrasound procedure:

It was uncomfortable to the point of being painful, emotionally triggering (and undoubtedly is moreso for victims of rape or incest or any woman in the midst of an already-emotional experience) and something that no government should force its citizens to undergo to make a political point.

In the process of whittling down reproductive rights, Republicans have begun to chip away at nearly every aspect of a woman's human right to control what happens inside of her own body, as well as what happens to her body -- in particular, her rights in the tragic event of a criminal assault. In Pennsylvania, a bill has been been introduced that would force a pregnant rape-victim who receives food stamps to prove that she was raped or else she'll lose her Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) stamps.

Romney and the Republican Party as well as, sorry to say, roughly half of all likely voters this year are poised to sanction nearly universal federal and state control over the reproductive organs of every woman of child-bearing age -- rolling back the clock on human rights and equality for women by more than 40 years. The stakes couldn't be higher and the Republicans know it. This is their last shot for many years to come.

But I sometimes wonder if everyone else, including many of us who follow these issues closely, is aware of the potential human cost amid the ongoing horserace drama of the political campaign. These are our daughters, mothers, wives, sweethearts, partners and business associates, and I worry that too many voters are unaware that more than half of all Americans are being slowly and deliberately suffocated of their rights and physically targeted by their leadership simply because they have two X chromosomes. This election is the hinge upon which those rights hang in the balance. It might be the most important election of our lives so far, and not because of some relatively disassociated issue thousands of miles away, but because it will determine whether women -- American women -- will retain purview over their own bodies.

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