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Abortion debate trivializes rape

By LZ Granderson, Special to CNN
  • LZ Granderson: When debating abortion coverage for rape victims, politicians tone-deaf
  • Kansas official suggested women prepare for rape like he prepares for a flat tire, he writes
  • Another said victims should not be covered because women might lie about attacks, he says
  • Granderson: Debate is crucial, but it must exclude sexist, belittling comments

Editor's note: LZ Granderson writes a weekly column for A senior writer and columnist for ESPN The Magazine and, he has contributed to ESPN's "Sports Center," "Outside the Lines" and "First Take." He is a 2010 nominee and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism and a 2010 and 2008 honoree of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for column writing.

Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- Well, now that Oprah's finally said goodbye, maybe women can get back to the important business of planning to be raped.

What's that? You have no idea what I'm talking about?

That's exactly what some politicians are hoping for -- women's lack of attention to what is being said about them, women being unaware of what is being decided about them.

I'm a dude, so I don't really have a dog in this race, but I thought an elected official suggesting women should be prepared to be raped the way he is prepared for a flat tire would draw more attention than Arnold Schwarzenegger's love child. But once again, I've overestimated the public's ability to prioritize.

Earlier this month, Kansas State Rep. Pete DeGraaf made some rather outlandish comments during a debate centered on banning insurance companies in Kansas from offering abortion coverage as part of their general health plans unless a woman's life were at risk. The bill, which the governor signed into law last week, would require a woman to carry a separate policy for abortions. When Rep. Barbara Bollier voiced concern for women who may become pregnant as a result of rape or incest, this exchange followed:

DeGraaf: "We do need to plan ahead, don't we, in life?"

Bollier: "And so women need to plan ahead for issues that they have no control over with pregnancy?"

DeGraaf: "I have a spare tire on my car."

"I also have life insurance," he added. "I have a lot of things that I plan ahead for."

Ladies and gentleman of the great state of Kansas, your tax dollars at work.

It shouldn't really matter which side of the fence you stand on regarding abortion: that tone, that rationale, has no place in the debate. That more people, more women, were not angered by DeGraaf's statements only highlights just how little we are paying attention to lawmakers.

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I wonder who DeGraaf believes has the greatest risk of being raped, and thus should purchase insurance accordingly? I wonder if DeGraaf believes rape is inevitable as death and that's why he mentioned he made the correlation with his life insurance policy.

It's one thing to discuss whether or not life begins at conception but to go so far as to trivialize one of the most horrific crimes anyone could ever experience is nothing more than an extension of the chauvinistic blame-the-victim mentality that has always tainted the conversation on rape.

Tea partier Sharron Angle raised eyebrows during the 2010 midterm election by suggesting rape and incest victims who become pregnant and do not have an abortion made a "lemon situation into lemonade" -- but at least she lost and cannot mandate that rape victims make lemonade.

Last month, while debating a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy that would not exempt victims of rape or incest, Idaho State Rep. Brent Crane, sponsor of the bill, said God's "ways are higher than our ways." He cited the example of Ethel Waters, a singer whose mother was raped at 13. Crane said God "has the ability to take difficult, tragic, horrific circumstances and then turn them into wonderful examples."

Am I making too much of a big deal about this?

Not when you look at the mentality of Indiana Rep. Eric Turner, who earlier this year introduced a bill that would make abortions illegal after 20 weeks instead of 24 weeks. When Rep. Gail Riecken proposed an amendment to that bill exempting women who are the victims of rape or incest, Turner said Reicken's proposal would encourage women to lie in order to get an abortion.

"I don't want to disparage in any way someone who has gone through the experience of a rape or incest -- but someone who is desirous of an abortion could simply say that they've been raped or there's incest," he said.

True, but does that mean the overall mental health of someone who was a victim, someone who was not lying, suddenly doesn't matter? I tend to think the only person who would make that kind of a statement is someone who tends to believe the number of women who lie about being sexually assaulted are far greater than the ones who actually are.

These are the kind of people, the kind of men, who are involved in shaping the conversation about abortion. This is why it is imperative that women, and not just those affiliated with groups like NOW, pay attention to what is being said and done. The issue at hand is not simply the morality of having an abortion, that's one aspect of it. But the other wrinkle to this conversation, the one all women -- regardless of political affiliation --should be able to rally around, is addressing the attitude and tone of the conversation. If men feel comfortable enough to be on the legislative floor and suggest that women and girls lie about rape, or recommend that it is something they should prepare for, one can only imagine what is being said behind closed doors.

Remember in April when federal funding for Planned Parenthood was being debated, Sen. John Kyl boldly stated that 90% of the organization's services were providing abortions -- when in fact the procedure only represented 3% of Planned Parenthood's functions? Of the more than 11 million services provided in 2009, more than 4 million fell under contraception and nearly 4 million fell under sexually transmitted disease testing. Nearly 2 million were for cancer screenings. A little more than 300,000 were abortions.

Late night TV had a good laugh at Kyl's expense when his staff later said the number was not supposed to be "factual." What isn't funny is the thought of just how many measures regarding a woman's body that Kyl supported or pushed forward.

When it comes to the topic of abortion, a politician's view is often shaped by his or her religion. What it should not be shaped by is sexism and flat-out lies.

The notions that rape is a possibility that women should plan for, or that abortions should not be provided to victims of rape or incest because some women might lie about an attack to get their insurance company to pay, reek of misogyny. Female voters need to pay closer attention to this rhetoric and be more vocal in challenging it, because ultimately it's not the Kyls, DeGraafs and Turners who are losing control over their bodies. It's them.

This article has been updated to give the correct title for Idaho State Rep. Brent Crane and additional description of his remarks.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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