When Ron Paul was asked by CNN host Piers Morgan on Friday whether he would allow one of his daughters or granddaughters to have an abortion if she were raped, he said yes -- if it's an honest rape.
An honest rape. What does that mean?
That the victim reported it to the police?
That it was forcible, as a House bill introduced last year would have required?
Does date rape count? Does it count if the woman was too intoxicated to consent?
Let's look at the full exchange:
MORGAN: You have two daughters. You have many granddaughters. If one of them was raped -- and I accept it's a very unlikely thing to happen -- but if they were, would you honestly look at them in the eye and say they had to have that child if they were impregnated?
PAUL: No. If it's an honest rape, that individual should go immediately to the emergency room. I would give them a shot of estrogen or give them --
MORGAN: You would allow them to abort the baby?
PAUL: It is absolutely in limbo, because an hour after intercourse or a day afterwards, there is no legal or medical problem. If you talk about somebody coming in and they say, well, I was raped and I'm seven months pregnant and I don't want to have anything to do with it, it's a little bit different story. But somebody arriving in an emergency room saying, I have just been raped, and there is no chemical -- there's no medical and there's no legal evidence of a pregnancy --
So here's what we know: under President Paul, a rape victim who goes to the emergency room right away would be given emergency contraception, but a rape victim who waited seven months to seek an abortion would be turned away.
OK, but what about in between those two extremes? What if the victim is two months pregnant? What if she reports the rape a week after the fact, when it's too late for emergency contraception to be effective?
Is it an honest rape then? Can she have an abortion? Or does she have to keep her rapist's child?
I'm sure some people reading this will wonder what the big deal is. If a woman is raped, she goes straight to the emergency room and there's no problem, right?
But as anyone, female or male, who has been raped knows, it's not that simple. I shouldn't have to say that rape is incredibly traumatic. It is also stigmatized. Our society is not yet so advanced that every rape victim can feel comfortable walking into an emergency room or police precinct with no fear of being mocked or having her experience trivialized. This is especially true if her experience does not fit the stereotype of rape: a woman attacked by an unknown assailant in an alleyway.
In these cases, the forensic evidence is usually unmistakable. There are signs of a struggle; of forcible penetration. She may have cuts or bruises. Doctors may be able to find hair or other DNA from the rapist. The victim is obviously that: a victim.
But most cases are not so clear-cut. More than 75 percent of rape victims know their attackers -- and only about 2 percent of them report it to the police. Among women raped by strangers, 21 percent report it: 10 times more than victims of acquaintance rape, but still a tragically low number.
I have a friend in that 75 percent. She went to a bar in Manhattan with some friends in 2009. She started talking to a guy. He bought her a couple drinks. When they left the bar together, her friends didn't stop them; they thought she was reasonably sober and wanted to go home with him.
She doesn't remember any of this. She woke up hours later in an unfamiliar bed, dazed and in pain.
Her rapist was asleep. She got dressed, ran from the apartment, and hailed a taxi to take her home. She didn't want to go to the police, because she was afraid they wouldn't believe her. After all, she had been drinking -- was it her fault? Would the police assume she had consented, even though, at the time she left the bar, she could not possibly have done so?
My friend was, in comparison to many other rape victims, lucky. She did not get pregnant. She did not have to decide whether to have an abortion, which is an agonizing decision even for pro-choice women -- contrary to some conservatives' beliefs, very few women take that choice lightly.
But here's my question for Ron Paul: what if she had gotten pregnant, and sought an abortion as soon as she found out she was pregnant? The forensic evidence of rape would have been long-since gone; there would have been no trace of the date-rape drug left in her body.
Does that count?
It's easy to say she should have left the man's apartment and had the taxi driver take her to the nearest emergency room. But she was scared, embarrassed and still suffering from the after-effects of the alcohol and the drug. Once she was home, she didn't want to deal with what had happened. She wanted to pretend it hadn't.
Hers was not an abnormal response to trauma. It is tragic -- rape should not go unreported -- but it is understandable. And we're not talking about a woman seven months pregnant -- we're talking about a delay of a few weeks.
Would it really have been Ron Paul's place, or any president's place, to tell her how to react, or to deny her an abortion because she reacted differently?