By Andrea Barron
Friday, November 8, 2013
Anti-abortion extremist Ken Cuccinelli just lost in Virginia but 40 members of the U.S. House are still carrying his "personhood" banner. To see where this could lead, consider the brutal treatment of rape victims in Nicaragua, botched abortions and miscarriages in El Salvador.
Credit: Andrea Barron
(WOMENSENEWS)-- On Nov. 5, Virginia voters blocked Ken Cuccinelli from becoming the state's next governor, giving pro-choice groups plenty of reason to celebrate.
If Cuccinelli had gotten his way, Virginia would have become the first state in the nation to classify zygotes--one-cell fertilized eggs--as people. But his defeat is certainly not the end of his extreme anti-abortion agenda, which would ban abortion even in cases of rape and threatens to import abortion policies like those in Nicaragua to the United States.
Over 1,400 women in Virginia were raped in 2012, according to State Police. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says that about 5 percent of all rape victims become pregnant. That means approximately 70 rape victims could become pregnant in Virginia every year. The United States has anywhere from 3,000 to 25,000 rape-related pregnancies annually.
Last year Nicaragua's government, ruled by the Sandinista National Liberation Front party, forced a 12-year old who had been raped and impregnated by her stepfather to remain under "state protection" in a Managua hospital until she gave birth. Sonia Castro, Nicaragua's health minister, even anointed herself "protector-in-chief," making sure the child did not escape from the hospital.
How could this happen? It is because of an extreme anti-abortion law Nicaragua passed in 2006 prohibiting abortions even in cases of rape, the same kind of policy supported by the GOP's Cuccinelli, who just lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Cuccinelli wanted Virginia to follow Nicaragua by forcing rape victims to bear the rapist's child, making them conform to his particular religious beliefs about when life begins.
In 2006, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a close ally of Cuba and a long-time nemesis of conservative Republicans, was running for president and needed the blessing of Nicaragua's powerful Catholic church. So the one-time revolutionary decided to support a law outlawing abortions even in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother's life.
Nicaragua's penal code punishes doctors and nurses who carry out abortions and imposes prison sentences on women or girls who undergo the procedure. Government officials say they are only following the constitution, which "protects" all human life "from the moment of conception." Cuccinelli also believes fertilized eggs are human beings, which is why he sponsored two fetal "personhood" bills in the Virginia General Assembly.
The 2007 personhood bill he cosponsored said "each born and preborn human being from the moment of fertilization" has the "right to enjoyment of life." And Cuccinelli has been a strong supporter of Virginia state delegate Bob Marshall, a Republican reelected on Nov. 5 who once said God punishes women who have had abortions by dramatically increasing their chances of bearing children with disabilities.
Anti-abortion extremists have been stepping up their activities throughout the country to criminalize abortion even in cases of rape.
In March North Dakota became the first state to pass a personhood amendment to the state constitution, with no exception for rape or to save the mother's life. Voters will decide in November 2014 whether to support or reject this amendment. In Washington, D.C., meanwhile, the GOP's former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and 40 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives are trying to pass a national personhood bill to give rights to zygotes.
In El Salvador, which has the same extreme anti-abortion laws as Nicaragua, women who go to the hospital because of a botched, coat-hanger type abortion or a miscarriage have been handcuffed to their beds by police. More than two dozen women are now in prison in El Salvador, convicted of "aggravated homicide" because of abortions or miscarriages.
One of these women is 19-year-old Glenda Xiomara Cruz, who went to a public hospital in October 2012 suffering from severe abdominal pain. The young woman had a miscarriage and two emergency operations. After all that she was charged with homicide for aborting the fetus. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison in September. The prosecution based much of its case on the testimony of her former boyfriend who regularly beat her, according to Cruz's father.
Cuccinelli may be sidelined for now, but there are still many more politicians who support personhood for fertilized eggs. How would they seek to punish women like Cruz who have miscarriages? How many prosecutors would they want to see assigned to interrogate rape victims and other women who have abortions in Virginia?
In Nicaragua, Magaly Quintana from Catholics for the Right to Choose says girls and women, especially those raped by their fathers, uncles or other relatives, should have the right to abortion. Cuccinelli disagrees. That is why he has refused to sign a statement giving sexual assault survivors access to the support services they need, including "legal abortion services for women who may become pregnant as a result of their attackers' crimes."
Cuccinelli and those like him certainly have a right to believe that God opposes abortions for rape victims. But they do not have a right to impose their views on others and to bring the harsh, punitive policies practiced by Nicaragua and El Salvador to Virginia, or anywhere else in the United States.
Andrea Barron is an adjunct history professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., where she teaches classes on global women's issues. She last visited Nicaragua and El Salvador in March 2013.
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