How Many New Abortion Restrictions Include a Rape Exception?

Written by Tara Culp-Ressler

Americans overwhelmingly favor legal abortion access for victims of sexual assault. But their lawmakers are consistently refusing to enact policies in line with that.

According to an analysis conducted by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), more than 70 percent of the new abortion restrictions enacted in the first half of 2013 don’t include any kind of exemption for pregnancies that result from rape. And state lawmakers proposed even more measures to limit rape victims’ abortion access that didn’t make it into law — the NWLC’s report finds that 86 percent of the anti-abortion bills proposed during the same time period didn’t have a rape exception.

U.S. Congress didn’t have a much better record during the first six months of the year. Seventy two percent of the bills proposed on a national level would have restricted abortion access even for rape victims.

The anti-abortion measures that apply to rape victims range from forcing a woman who has become pregnant from sexual assault to carry the pregnancy to term; to requiring her to look at an ultrasound of the fetus and listen to a fetal heartbeat; to banning her from using her own insurance coverage to pay for an abortion; to allowing hospitals to deny her abortion care.

And the decision to omit a rape exception was certainly intentional in some states. One anti-abortion measure introduced in Mississippi stated: “The State of Mississippi shall not punish the crime of sexual assault with the death penalty, and neither shall persons conceived through a sexual assault be punished with the loss of his or her life.”

The organization surveyed state-level and national legislation between January and May, so their data isn’t comprehensive for the entire year. But many state legislatures concluded their sessions at the beginning of the summer and slowed down their flurry of anti-choice proposals (with a few notable exceptions).

Over the past year, abortion opponents have incited considerable controversy by making callous statements about rape victims. A year ago, former Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) asserted that women don’t often get pregnant from rape because the female body “has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Since then, Republican politicians have suggested that pregnancies from rape are a “gift from God,” mocked rape exceptions as “little gotcha amendments,” and suggested abortion access for rape victims is unnecessary because ending a pregnancy will “put more violence on a woman’s body.” At least five GOP candidates who made insensitive comments about rape and abortion lost their seats in the 2012 election. The political firestorm became such a problem for the GOP that House Republicans ended up attending training programs to learn how to better talk about rape.

However, that training hasn’t translated into policy action. Even in rare cases when anti-abortion legislation does include a provision to ensure that rape victims will be able to access reproductive health care, the stringent guidelines can pose obstacles that render the exception meaningless. Rape victims are often required to report the crime — in some cases, within the first 48 hours — and provide specific details about their assailant to law enforcement. One Indiana bill introduced this year would have even required survivors of sexual assault to get the crime “verified” in order to access abortion care.

NWLC only considered abortion-related measures that could have included a specific exception for victims of sexual assault. That means the organization’s report doesn’t include any of the legislation that indirectly impacts women’s abortion access, like laws imposing harsh regulations on abortion clinics that will force them to close. When taking into account the comprehensive landscape of abortion restrictions, state legislatures proposed more than 300 measures intended to limit access to abortion in the first half of the year — making 2013 one of the worst years for reproductive freedom in recent history.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Jerome S
Jerome S9 months ago


Jim Ven
Jim Ven9 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne R4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Lindsey O.
Lindsey O4 years ago

Some were discussing the issue of whether abortion's legal in Islamic countries. Some of those countries allow it, some don't (and some allow it with restrictions). The same's true of non-Islamic countries (though the "Western" nations by and large are the least restrictive as a group).

I always have difficulty understanding any anti-abortion law which doesn't at least have a rape exception. Seems such a cruelty to force a woman to carry to term and give birth to her rapist's child if she doesn't want to.

And I do wish that abortion issues wouldn't keep being placed into the category of "women's rights" exclusively. Men, just like women, have a strong interest in keeping abortion legal (since many, many men have no desire to be forced to support and/or help raise an unwanted child and very much want to keep abortion legal.

Lori Ann Hone
Lori Hone4 years ago


sheila h.
sheila haigh4 years ago


....the wife can write whatever she wants into the marriage contract (which is a legal document) so she can state, for example, that he is not allowed to take another wife, how much money he is to give her each month, how often he has to buy her a new car, how big her house should be, and if he doesn’t comply she can divorce him. We may find that concept strange, but it is a fact, a part of their culture, and is a great protection for women. In fact, the west is only just getting round to doing similar pre-nuptial agreements, but they’re usually designed to protect the man’s wealth, rather than the woman’s well-being.

Pam – you clearly have no wish to have your mind opened up to other possibilities, so I will leave you to your ignorance.

sheila h.
sheila haigh4 years ago

Suba – if an Islamic country is defined by its stoning and Sharia Law, then most Islamic countries today will be surprised to discover they are not Islamic as those things don’t exist there.

Ethics change with time and place. The UK even has Ethics Committees to decide what is and what is not ethical in certain spheres at a given time – and those decisions change from time to time, over a matter of a few years. You think America’s ethics are so great? There are many around the world, including in other western countries, who would beg to differ, in fact many would argue that America is set on a course of regression (as evidenced by the topic of this thread). There are so-called ‘primitive societies’ in this world even today whose ethics surpass our own.

I could argue that it was very ethical to allow for the protection of, and provision for, women and children when no other means of protection and provision were available (no social security, no government housing, etc.). In most countries (certainly Arab countries), few men take more than 1 wife – I cannot speak for all, as my knowledge is not extensive enough – and the wife can write whatever she wants into the marriage contract (which is a legal document) so she can state, for example, that he is not allowed to take another wife, how much money he is to give her each month, how often he has to buy her a new car, how big her house should be, and if he doesn’t comply sh

pam w.
pam w4 years ago

Don't get so happy, Sheila...I'm not ''worked up.''

I'm weary of people trying to make feeble excuses for Islam. It's a primitive political system which masks itself as religion and seeks to control every aspect of a ''believer's'' life...freedom of speech, artistic expression, women's rights, political activity, freedom to choose another religion, freedom to LEAVE Islam...literally every facet of life. It's a religion based on anger....stonings, amputations, beheadings....all primitive attempts to control a society through fear.

And I believe you know that.

But, I've nothing more to say to you about it.....except that this thread is about abortion rights in the United States.

sheila h.
sheila haigh4 years ago

(last bit.....)

As for girls being married without their consent, that was completely forbidden by Mohammed – all women had to be ‘of an age to marry’ and had to give their own consent, no-one could speak for them.

Your second paragraph I do not disagree with – it’s pretty much the point I was making to Robert F.

sheila h.
sheila haigh4 years ago


. Just about everything in the Qu’ran has a historical reason for it, if we only knew and understood the history. Along came Jesus, and he said you could only have 1 wife. Now, some people accepted that and became Christians, many could not accept it and remained heathen, worshipping their other gods, or none.

Six hundred years later, along came Mohammed and he saw that having so many wives often caused much pain to the wives & was a source of much argument. But he was a realist. He knew that if he tried to limit men to 1 wife, as Jesus had, they would not accept it, and thus reject the religion, so he allowed them up to 4 wives – but on the strict terms that they all be treated equally, and in the Qu’ran, he goes on to say that if a man cannot be sure to treat them all equally “it is better you take only one”. He recognised the impossibility for any human to treat even 4 people exactly equally, (how can one have exactly the same feelings for all 4, how expensive it would be that if you bought 1 wife a scarf, a goat or a house, you had to buy all 4 the same?). So, he sought to encourage men to restrict the numbers of wives they took, while being realistic to men’s nature and the traditions of the time, but to him, 1 wife only was the best option.

As for girls being married without their consent, that was completely forbidden by Mohammed – all women had to be ‘of an age to marry’ and had to give the