It should go without saying that a woman in that condition could not consent to sex. There is no way to call this case possible sexual assault; it was definite rape. We should use the word. And it was accompanied by care so brutally negligent that the woman’s pregnancy ran its course before anyone noticed.
We know that sexual assault and rape are less about sex than they are predation, which is one reason assailants target the vulnerable — children, women under the influence of drugs or alcohol, people with disabilities.
But sexual assault and rape are also about entitlement to women’s bodies: Seeing us as vessels for the gratification that comes with sexualized violence. In the disturbing case of the woman in Arizona, she of course had no way to make her wishes known — nor did her family — as to whether or not she should also be a vessel for carrying this baby to birth. Indeed, according to some reports, personnel at her facility did not even know she was pregnant.
But I think it is safe to assume that in those cases where a pregnancy after rape is actually apparent, to many women, a decision to end it would be a foregone conclusion.
It’s important for us to remember, however, that that choice does not exist for many in the United States.
This has real consequences: Abortion opponents have fought to keep brain-dead women on life support, against their wishes, so that their bodies could be used as simple containers to bring a pregnancy to term.
You may think I’m overstating the case here — maybe you’re appalled by sexual assault, but sympathetic to the anti-abortion (and, often, also anti-contraception) movement, believing it only has the best interests of the fetus at heart. But a woman’s reproductive system is either her own or it isn’t. If you believe it’s wrong to forcibly penetrate a woman against her will, then it’s also wrong to force her to grow, carry, and deliver a pregnancy against her will.
It’s women with disabilities who often suffer the most on this score, having their desires and rights over their own bodies overridden in the service of another’s misogyny — whether that’s a person who seeks to assault them or someone who refuses to let them decide their own end-of-life care, should they be pregnant.
We should be shocked and disgusted by this case. But we should harness that rightful outrage and oppose all violations of women’s bodies — including those extreme misogynist cruelties done in the name of “life.”