Hathaway: Rape Exceptions in Abortion Laws are Problematic

By: Dana Hathaway

Editorial Editor


While 61 percent of American adults believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases according to the Pew Research Center, politicians have often relied on narrow exceptions — including when rape is the driving factor — to make abortion bans more palatable to the public. In theory, these laws would provide all rape victims with the option for a legal abortion. In reality, rape exceptions, designed to make laws on women’s bodies more “humane,” often have legal and economic barriers that can render the exception ineffective.

Legal requirements await anyone attempting to utilize rape exceptions, and can make access difficult to impossible. Lawyer Eugene Quay established a precedent through his 1961 article that women cannot get pregnant because of rape, and therefore must be lying to get abortions. Shortly after, states with rape exceptions mandated that rape must be “certified” by a police report, and/or a pair of physician exams. Quay’s false reasoning brought on these outdated restrictions, which ultimately restrict abortion care for rape victims. 

Although this blatantly false article remains in the background of history, these laws are still very much present in several states with rape exceptions in abortion laws. For example, Idaho state laws allow abortion if “prior to the performance of the abortion, the woman has reported the act of rape or incest to a law enforcement agency and provided a copy of such report to the physician who is to perform the abortion.” However, a police report is a barrier when it comes to abortion access. First off, statistics show that police receive reports of only one-third of rape cases. Various reasons may be behind this, including fear of harm from the perpetrator, ostracization from the community, unwelcome attention, and more. As a result, rape exceptions become much less effective as the majority of victims cannot or will not file reports, making them ineligible for abortions.  In addition, minors could be placed in a potentially harmful situation as many police branches require parent notification for incidents involving minors. Due to the report mandate, teens who were raped by a community or family member and cannot tell their parents are then unable to access a necessary abortion because of the legal requirements surrounding the rape exception. 

If someone manages to overcome these barriers, they are then tasked with finding an abortion clinic willing to perform the procedure. Consider the circumstances if someone lives in Mississippi. Although abortion is legal for rape victims, the nearest clinic is eight and a half hours away in Florida. With the overturn of Roe v. Wade on July 24, 2022, abortion clinics started closing in staggering numbers. In just four days after the decision, 43 clinics had closed, including the last clinics in Mississippi. The scarcity of clinics in states where abortion is only availible in very specific circumstances provides an economic hurdle for any individual who needs an abortion after rape. Between childcare, missing work or school, gas prices, hotel stays, and a probable abortion fee, the procedure puts low-income households and adolescents at a severe disadvantage to obtain something that is supposed to be, and should be, a right.

The barriers that lie before anyone trying to utilize abortion exceptions are often far too many, something that politicians turn a blind eye to while claiming sympathy to rape survivors. Over the next few years, thousands of women will be stranded without a clear path out of their situation, a situation they did not choose to be in, with laws that do not support them.


(Sources: Pew Research Center, New York Times, Poynter, ABC News, NPR News, Idaho Gov)

Categories: Opinion, Web Exclusive

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