In the wake of Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape,” there have been many response posts from women whose very lives contradict Akin’s shady science.
None have been quite as moving and enlightening as Shauna Prewitt’s, which was first published on xoJane under the headline, “An Open Letter to Rep. Akin From a Woman Who Got Pregnant From Rape.” In it, Prewitt painfully describes her rape at age 21 and the resulting pregnancy — and her decision to keep and raise her baby. Prewitt is now a lawyer in Chicago and has written about her own case for the Georgetown Law Journal in a piece called “Giving Birth to a ‘Rapist’s Child’: A Discussion and Analysis of the Limited Legal Protections Afforded to Women Who Become Mothers Through Rape.”
Because the most shocking and sickening part of Prewitt’s story is that currently, in 31 states, “men who father through rape are able to assert the same custody and visitation rights to their children that other fathers enjoy.”
When no law prohibits a rapist from exercising these rights, a woman may feel forced to bargain away her legal rights to a criminal trial in exchange for the rapist dropping the bid to have access to her child.
Prewitt knows firsthand.
I read Prewitt’s story on xoJane and again, just now on CNN, where it was picked up as a special report. Like many commenters, I had no idea this was the law and I was infuriated. (I also had to stop reading the comments on Prewitt’s pieces because of the sheer ignorance found there. Look for yourselves if you can stomach it, or if you doubt that misogyny is alive and well!)
Prewitt continues in her article:
Having fought this injustice for the past several years, I have come to believe that ignorance is to blame for this legal absence. Opponents argue no woman would ever choose to raise the child she conceived through rape. The only two studies to analyze the choices made by pregnant raped women indicate otherwise — at least 30% of women who conceive by rape make this choice.
Others argue that no rapist would ever seek parental rights. Not only does my experience and that of others I know prove otherwise, but it is not surprising that a man who cruelly degrades a woman would also seek to torture her in an even more agonizing way, by seeking access to her child.
Today, it seems we may face a new and unbelievable challenge: convincing legislators that women can conceive when they are raped.
Obviously a woman who is raped can get pregnant. Despite the firestorm surrounding Akin’s comments, most people have not argued this one point — whatever you believe, this scientific fact is inarguable.
I don’t know that I can understand the mindset of a woman choosing to give birth to a baby conceived through rape, but I have never been in that incredibly painful, complex, horrifying situation. (Thank goodness and the flying spaghetti monster and everyone else.) I know that since I have never been in that woman’s place, I could never speculate as to her decision-making. It would be unfair and harmful to do so. Some women don’t have a choice. Some have different religious beliefs. Some have their own private reasons. Anyone who claims they KNOW a woman who was “legitimately raped” would NEVER keep the baby is a liar and a sociopath who doesn’t understand the nuances of humanity.
There’s a lot to discuss that isn’t black and white. You can read the rest of Prewitt’s CNN article here.
It’s unfortunate that these women’s stories only get the attention they deserve after some dummy says a dummy thing, but at least there’s one good part to come out of all this: We’re talking about the gray areas of rape and pregnancy and the horribly anti-woman laws on the books in that regard. And hopefully, the right people are listening.