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Why I call it rape insurance: A rebuttal to Jessica Valenti

by: Eric B.

Thu Dec 19, 2013 at 15:20:30 PM EST


A few years ago, Goat Killer introduced a piece of food stamp reform legislation. The intended purpose was to reduce abuse of food stamps (a problem that takes place at a much lower frequency and at much smaller dollar amounts than waste, fraud and abuse in the military procurement process), and he wanted to do this by requiring that people using Bridge cards to buy food present a photo ID to prove that they were indeed the person authorized to use it.

As some of you are probably aware, I work weekends in a group home for developmentally disabled adults, all of whom require food stamps to eat. My employer operates group homes all over Isabella and Clare counties, and the people who live in them are at all levels of ability to function. Some of them are very active and hold down jobs and only live in a group home because they need some extra help, and some of them are in such bad physical shape (either because of their disabilities or because of their medical condition) that they can't leave the house. The home I work in is a high-risk medical home, which means that several of the people who live in it have very serious medical conditions. All but one of them are confined to wheelchairs during protracted trips outside the home.

Under Goat Killer's bill, the staff in my home would have been required to either take someone with very serious medical conditions grocery shopping. And, because in group homes it is more efficient and cost effective to do a lot of shopping at once, it means using more than one Bridge card at a time. That means extra staffing to take several people out shopping at once, and some of those people with doctor recommendations to not spend time outside when it is cold. For other people in other group homes, who cannot leave the house, and for elderly shut-ins, it would have meant a death sentence of sorts. Can't leave the house, and whoever delivers care services can't buy you food. Obviously, no one would have died because someone would have figured out a diferent way to get those people fed, but that's the way Goat Killer wrote his bill.

It would have affected everyone on food stamps but the only way to really demonstrate how absurd were the lengths Goat Killer was willing to go to "fix" food stamp fraud was to point out that Goat Killer wanted to starve group home residents and elderly shut-ins. Fortunately, the bill didn't go anywhere.

This bings us to today. In The Nation, Jessica Valenti says that we shouldn't call last week's crime against democracy "rape insurance."

Last night Michigan’s legislature passed a measure banning coverage for abortion in private health plans. Women who want abortion coverage will have to buy an additional rider, essentially planning for an unplanned pregnancy. I understand why opponents of the measure are calling it “rape insurance”—there are no exceptions for rape and incest, and State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer told her own story of sexual assault and how such a law would have impacted her if she had become pregnant as a result of the attack. It was a brave moment. But the term “rape insurance” does a disservice to women—and to the reproductive justice movement.

It is not just sexual assault survivors who need their abortion covered. Yes, there is an added dimension of cruelty when you’re talking about denying women who get pregnant as a result of rape care and coverage. But we cannot create a hierarchy of “good” and “bad” abortions. Or of “deserving” women. One in three American women will have an abortion, and the circumstances behind that pregnancy is none of our business—and it certainly should have no bearing on whether or not women can afford to access care.

I think we can agree on just about everything she's written. We shouldn't have a hierachy for which abortions are good and which abortions are bad. In fact, it's not anyone's business why anyone would get an abortion. It's also not anyone's business that someone would get an abortion in the first place. Privacy in medical decision making is either important or it isn't. If the medical decisions women are forced to make are subject to scrutiny then I can't really be said that we take the idea of private decision making seriously.

In that agreement, we also find where we disagree. Valenti doesn't want to make a strata for who gets abortion coverage and who doesn't, just like it would be wrong to create a strata for which food stamps users get carded and which food stamps users don't. You shouldn't have to explain your circumstances to anyone for using a Bridge card to buy food. If you are a poor person who can't afford food because of job loss, you have the same rights to dignity and privacy of hardship as someone who requires a paid staff person to buy your groceries and cook for you. If you feel you need to abort a pregnancy although not being raped, you are the same as someone who wants to terminate a pregnancy that results from incest. Because they are the same, you take the most extreme case possible and hang it around the law. In this case, the most extreme case possible is that it forces women to consider the possibility that they might be raped in the future and buy extra insurance in case it happens and they want an abortion. The idea that we'd force people to do that is one of the most horrific things I've ever heard.

So what happens if the people behind this change their minds and say that they're okay with insurance companies offering policies with abortion coverage for rape and incest included? Well, for starters, there's no indication that they'd do this. Earlier this month, Right to Life brought some people who were children of rape and paraded them around the Capitol. There's some speculation that the real point might be to get rid of the Hyde Amendment's exception for rape and incest. But, in the event that it happens, there is a very easy and ready made alternative to stratifying abortions into one group that is okay and one group that is a filthy form of emergency birth control for sluts who couldn't keep their knees together: Michigan's rape insurance law still represents interference in the marketplace by government that tells consumers what they can buy and vendors what they can sell. 

Eric B. :: Why I call it rape insurance: A rebuttal to Jessica Valenti
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