When Rape Brings Babies

Conceived in violence, raised in neglect and shame, children born of rape in other countries have become a lost generation

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Jeff Roberson / AP

Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., announces his candidacy for U.S. Senate, in Creve Coeur, Mo., on May 17, 2011.

If the outrageous comments by Missouri Congressman Todd Akin this week had any salutary effect, it is this: We can no longer deny that, when it comes to basic reproductive rights, concern for women’s health and, overall, respect for human dignity, the United States is at risk for absolute disaster.

Indeed, it is no exaggeration now to say that, when it comes to the issue of violence against women and its longterm fallout, we are poised to find ourselves in such otherwise unimaginable company as Bosnia, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Why? Because if Republicans like the now-infamous Akin, the lesser-known GOP delegates who wrote this year’s party platform calling for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion without specific exceptions for rape or incest, and, yes, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, all have their way, we too will soon have in our midst tens of thousands of rape victims forced to carry their trauma-caused pregnancies to term, and as many American children born under the curse of the worst sort of physical and emotional violation.

(MORE: Todd Akin Fallout: Rape, Abortion and the Dark History of Qualifying Violence Against Women)

This nightmare scenario has long been playing out in regions of the world where rape has been used as a weapon of war — distant theaters of horror we consider far from our own realm of experience. During the Balkans conflict, an estimated 20,000 Bosnian Muslim women were raped; their babies were later found to be subject to lives of stigma, isolation, and even out and out abandonment. Babies born from the thousands of rapes that accompanied the worst atrocities of the Rwandan genocide have been shunned as “children of bad memories,” even “devil’s children.” Similarly, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development, which, along with UNICEF, Amnesty International, and other aid groups has repeatedly studied sexual violence and its consequences in war zones, the babies born to the tens of thousands of women (at least) who have been raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo have suffered systematic rejection by their families and communities, and now amount to a new lost generation, despised at birth, and, very often, re-victimized throughout their young lives.

Playwright Eve Ensler, herself a rape victim, who is currently in the DRC working with female survivors of wartime sexual violence, was moved this week, in the wake of Akin’s “legitimate rape” remarks, to write an open letter to the U.S. Senate candidate in the Huffington Post in which she bore graphic witness to the experiences of the women in her midst, including those with no choice but to bring babies conceived in violence to term. She wrote eloquently of their struggles with their sense of being continually re-violated, “wrestling with their hate and anger, trying not to project that onto their child.”

Is this the sort of human rights disaster we want to replicate — indeed, to normalize — in our own country?

(MORE: Why Akin Matters)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 32,000 pregnancies occur each year in the United States as a result of rape. Fortunately, for now, American women can choose whether or not to give birth to those violently conceived babies — although, depending on where those women live, finding a provider for an abortion can be all but impossible.

The battle for abortion rights in America has become, in recent years, a losing war of attrition, and in its long-term, dispiriting course, many in the pro-choice camp have more or less averted their gaze as Republican lawmakers have steadily chipped away at women’s rights and women’s dignity. We’ve allowed our peace of mind to rest upon a vague sense that, no matter what madness goes on in distant state houses or outside isolated abortion clinics, when it comes to matters of national law, cooler, rational minds will prevail. Akin’s words this week were offensive enough to disturb that avoidant slumber, waking us all up to the fact that, for all practical purposes, there is no meaningful difference between his ignorant and extremist views and the more polished pronouncements of those speaking on behalf of the mainstream Republican party.

Just imagine: Tens of thousands of American rape victims a year forced to give birth. Tens of thousands of American babies brought to term in a wash of extreme maternal stress, fear and despair. The total picture sounds like the basis for a Young Adult dystopian novel. Let’s not allow it to become part of our nation’s history.

MORE: “Legitimate Rape?” Todd Akin and Other Republicans Who Confuse Science