The Vagina Memo: An Open Letter to Eve Ensler
Whatever you think of the wisdom of the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," its intent was clearly to strengthen the Hyde Amendment. . . . Oh, I'm sorry; you don't think so, Eve? You read it as something more sinister, something akin (no pun intended) to the way "rapists played with us in the act of being raped—intimidating us, threatening us, muting us. Your playing with words like 'forcible' and 'legitimate' is playing with our souls which have been shattered by unwanted penises shoving into us, ripping our flesh, our vaginas, our consciousness, our confidence, our pride, our futures."
(As an aside, Eve, I notice that you keep referring to women's "souls," which you specifically differentiate from their minds and hearts. If a woman's "soul" is distinct from her mind and heart, what does it consist of? Where does it come from? Oh, and when does it arrive? You see where this is going, don't you?)
Likewise, you hear a more sinister subtext in Akin's mindboggling suggestion that women rarely become pregnant as a result of rape because, as he explained, "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Generations of female slaves and their biracial children might beg to differ, of course. But I keep hearing that as mere biological ignorance. You, on the other hand, noticed something else in Akin's words: "It would seem you were saying that getting pregnant after a rape would indicate it was not a 'legitimate' rape."
That can't be strictly what he meant since he said cases of conception from rape are "really rare" (not "nonexistent") because the female body will "try to" (not "always") shut down the fertilization process. But isn't there another, more (how shall I say this?) charitable way to look at it? Isn't it at least possible that Akin, like many pro-life advocates, struggles with the consistency of his beliefs in the agonizing case of pregnancies resulting from rape and incest? That he struggles so much he'll grasp at any explanatory straw, trust any nugget of pseudo-science, telling him that such cases are exceedingly rare, that women's bodies somehow mystically repel evil sperm.
As I'm sure you're aware, Eve, the most intellectually consistent pro-life position doesn't allow exceptions for rape or incest . . . and forcing pro-life advocates to admit this fact is always a good way to score political points. But must we seize every opportunity to score political points? Aren't we all emotional, as well as intellectual, creatures? Don't we all struggle with hard cases? Don't we all occasionally grasp at straws hoping the hard cases will just go away?
Is it really necessary for me to point out that pro-choice advocates face their own problem of consistency in the case of partial birth abortions? To point out that the most intellectually consistent pro-choice position permits the killing of babies—not just miniscule embryos, not just tadpole-like fetuses, but hand-squeezing, eye-blinking, air-sucking babies? Isn't the most consistent pro-choice position that sentient, medically viable babies can, at the request of the mother, be killed until the moment of their delivery, and arguably until the cutting of their umbilical cords? Don't pro-choice advocates agonize over consistency, and occasionally grasp at straws, when it comes to the hard case of partial birth abortions?
What I'm asking, Eve, is whether the debate over abortion—which is how we got here, remember?—must always be fought over the most agonizing cases. Must it always be couched in overwrought rhetoric and larded with purple prose? Must it always be "the Republican war on women" versus "the Democratic war on the unborn"? Must the sides forever see one another as "those people who want to force rape victims to bear their rapist's child" and "these people who want to permit the killing of living, feeling babies"?
Don't we all just need to take a deep breath now and then and let nonsense speak for itself?
-- Mark Goldblatt, New York City
Mark Goldblatt teaches religious history at Fashion Institute of Technology of the State University of New York (SUNY). He is the author of Bumper Sticker Liberalism.