Opinion

One simple question Kansas abortion-rights advocates could ask their opponents

July 18, 2022 3:33 am
Supporters of women's reproductive rights gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court on May 3, 2022, in protest of a leaked draft ruling that shows the court plans to overturn Roe v. Wade. (Jane Norman/States Newsroom)

Supporters of women’s reproductive rights gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court on May 3, 2022, in protest of a leaked draft ruling that shows the court plans to overturn Roe v. Wade. (Jane Norman/States Newsroom)

Should a 10-year-old girl be forced to give birth to her rapist’s baby?

If they want to stop a proposed constitutional amendment from passing, Kansas abortion-rights activists should be asking anti-abortion forces that one question each and every day. If they want a message that slices through congealed rhetoric, that’s the one they should deploy ruthlessly and relentlessly.

Should a 10-year-old girl be forced to give birth to her rapist’s baby?

The question makes anti-abortion activists sweat. You can tell in Ohio, when such a case led at first to widespread skepticism. Mainstream fact checkers reacted cautiously, while partisans went on the offensive. Surely, they said, there was no way such an awful story could happen so closely to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. Surely the evil pro-choice folks must be behind this. Surely it was all faked.

Except it wasn’t. The case was confirmed, and these same pro-life forces retreated to condemning the rapist, as though that somehow made the 10-year-old’s life better.

Politico rounded up Republican political strategists’ responses to the story, and they are illuminating for anyone following the abortion debate in Kansas and the United States. Just listen to what they said.

“Oh, God no.” That came after a National Right to Life official said the 10-year-old should of course be forced by the state to give birth.

“Very bad.” 

“I’m not touching this story with a 10-foot-pole wrapped in a blanket wrapped in a whatever.”

In other words, this story, this fact — that children will be forced to give birth under laws prohibiting abortion — is radioactive to the anti-abortion cause. True believers will go to almost any length and cite any excuse to avoid dealing with it.

Which is why, again, Kansas abortion-rights activists would be well-served to ask that question, over and over and over.

Should a 10-year-old girl be forced to give birth to her rapist’s baby?

Or as journalist Oliver Willis put it on Twitter:

In Kansas, the anti-abortion response has been that the amendment vote has nothing whatsoever to do with bans. Changing our state constitution simply allows for reasonable regulations. Why would you even be so rude as to bring up the topic?

Yet they can’t deny that’s what they want, because the amendment is specifically written to allow a total ban on the procedure. Why would it be written that way if that wasn’t the goal? Advocates could have included literally any language. They could have crafted any number of carveouts or exceptions, but they instead chose an obfuscatory flurry of words that gives the Legislature unlimited power. (They also gave the game away during a Reno County GOP meeting last month.)

Pro-choice advocates shouldn’t play on their opponents’ turf.

If the amendment passes, a total ban on all abortions will be proposed. And if that total ban passes, Kansas will see its own 10-year-old rape victims forced to give birth. That’s the reality. Reflector editor Sherman Smith noted last week that “In total, six girls younger than 14 received an abortion in Kansas in 2021, as well as nearly 200 among the ages of 14 through 17.”

Again: Six girls younger than 14 had an abortion in Kansas. Not one, not two. Six.

A total ban on the procedure will apply to these girls. They are, by definition, victims of rape. Their trust and personhood has been abused. Those who believe in abortion rights should ask at every juncture whether anti-abortion advocates want the state to magnify that abuse.

Should a 10-year-old girl be forced to give birth to her rapist’s baby?

No other question is needed. Nothing else makes the stakes clearer. Nothing else is more wrenching for those opposing abortion to answer.

It doesn’t have to be, of course. Those supporting the amendment also have an option that could guarantee them victory. They could state, loudly and publicly, that they don’t want such a tragic outcome for any child. They could vow to support sensible exceptions to any abortion restrictions passed by the Legislature. They could pledge to publicly oppose bills that don’t offer such exceptions. Taking that route, however, means disavowing decisions that brought us to this point.

Politics means asking and answering difficult questions. How often did Democrats have to refute untrue allegations of “death panels” during the Affordable Care Act debate more than a decade ago? How often were Democrats forced to deal with bogus concerns about critical race theory last year? When Republicans find a message that sticks, they repeat it ad nauseum. They grind it into the ground, until every possible persuadable voter has heard them loud and clear.

In this case, pro-choice advocates have a message that strikes at the core of their opponents’ case. They can put obfuscators on the defensive. They can mobilize voters who may be uncomfortable with some aspects of abortion but don’t want a total ban.

The only reason they wouldn’t ask the question is if they don’t want to win.

Should a 10-year-old girl be forced to give birth to her rapist’s baby?

If they ask the question, and if they press the issue, Kansas abortion-rights activists could transform the entire debate.


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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.

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