Friday, January 25, 2013

Let's Prosecute Rape Victims. Yes, Really.

Every once in a while someone mixes up a cocktail of such mind-melting stupidity, monumental inconsistency, and transcendent arrogance that there is little for the rest of us to do but drop everything and gaze in slack-jawed wonderment at the inanity before us. Behold, therefore, one Cathrynn Brown (right), a New Mexico legislator whose latest bill rockets off the scale, leaving “moronic” and “horrific” as feeble understatements of the idiocy involved.

It would (or would have, until it was changed under duress) criminalize abortions for rape and incest victims under the ingenious appellation of destruction of evidence. The language is clear: the strictures “shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime.”

Yes, Gentle Reader, you read that correctly. Look, reasonable people can disagree about the prudence, ethics, and morality of abortion in general. The long-time equivocation of some “centrists,” allowing the procedure in cases of rape and incest, may or may not be logically consistent (it makes sense if and only if the rights of the unborn are extant but not absolute), is here turned on its head: now, such victims are the only group specifically forbidden from getting an abortion.

Aviva Shen of ThinkProgress also points out that:
While anti-choice advocates maintain that a fetus should be afforded the full rights of personhood, charging abortion as “tampering with evidence” effectively turns the fetus into an object. This isn’t the first time so-called pro-life supporters have dropped the fetal personhood crusade when it was convenient—last year, a Catholic hospital in Colorado reversed its stance on fetal personhood in a malpractice suit, arguing in court that the term “person” should only apply to individuals who have already been born.
And so it goes. The idea of abortion as destruction of evidence is also patently absurd on its face. It would make as much sense to tell the victim of a stabbing that he can’t remove the knife, or of a vandalism victim that she can’t clean up the side of the house… ever. If you want to make the penalties for rape more severe, sign me up. But do it; don’t equivocate with disingenuous arguments about destruction of evidence.

Now, to be fair, I don’t necessarily think Ms. Brown is truly as inept as her legislation makes it appear. One wonders if she’d able to feed herself if she were. And she does say that she didn’t intend for rape and incest victims to face felony charges for actions that would be legal for everyone else. She’s not really a monster. She’s just illiterate. Or sloppy. Maybe.

The point is that only the prospective mother can “procure” an abortion, and that “facilitate” is a very broad term indeed. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to assert that, as written, Brown’s bill would not only criminalize the actions of the woman, but of the doctors and nurses, the neighbor who drove her to the facility, and a fair number of other people whose actions are otherwise both legal and appropriate.

Yes, that tag about the “intent to destroy evidence” does mitigate the harm, but it doesn’t eliminate it. It would if it were not for the fact that the “procurer” of the abortion and those who “facilitate” it are specifically included. If Ms. Brown wants a bill to do what she says she wants it to do, it’s easily accomplished, thus: “shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime.”

Here’s her revision: “a person who commits criminal sexual penetration or incest and who procures an abortion of a fetus resulting from the crime with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime is guilty of tampering with evidence.” Does this strike anyone else as weird? The fact that the references to compulsion and coercion have disappeared, for example? I have no idea what’s going on, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s still only the prospective mother who can “procure” an abortion, meaning that the only people who are covered by these restrictions are women who rape men or who are the aggressor (or adult) in cases of incest. Whereas such criminals might be tempted to abort a fetus for precisely the reason suggested, I doubt that Ms. Brown had that particular scenario in mind.

So what was going on in her mind? Who knows? It could be that she just doesn’t handle the language very well, or that she had a lapse that caused her to believe she was being clear when she wasn’t. That’s pretty much what she’s claiming… or admitting… or whatever. Her colleague Nate Gentry argues, for example, that the bill was intended to apply to, say, a step-father who impregnates his stepdaughter and then demands that she have an abortion. OK. Except that, as the ACLU’s Laura Schauer Ives points out, that is already covered under existing New Mexico law. And let’s be real: the only way you could get a conviction under Brown’s bill would be to have already proven the rape or incest allegation.

The best case scenario for Brown’s motives, then, is that this lawyer (no need for precision of language in that profession, right?) who serves on the board of a local Right to Life organization introduced utterly unnecessary legislation that completely accidentally demonized sexual assault victims who chose to end pregnancies. Forgive me if I raise an eyebrow of skepticism. I won’t claim anything with certainty, or even with great confidence, but it sure makes more sense to me that the bill was intended to do precisely what it said it was going to do, i.e. to criminalize any abortion Brown could figure out a way to criminalize; that she got busted; and that she’s now back-pedaling like a bad thing.

Ultimately, however, whether Brown is a prevaricating monster or simply a sloppy, grandstanding pol is not the question. The real issue is whether New Mexico House Bill 206, as originally written, was the Single Most Fucking Stupid Legislation Ever Introduced Anywhere.

Why, yes. Yes, it was.

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