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The Dark Logic Behind Alabama’s Abortion Ban

A gaffe is not when a politician tells a lie, according to a famous adage by journalist Michael Kinsley. “A gaffe,” he explained, “is when a politician tells the truth — some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”

When Alabama, Ohio and Missouri enacted broad abortion bans with no exception for cases of rape and incest, they made the same sort of mistake. Their measures gave the public an accurate but alarming picture of how many “pro-life” advocates see the issue. By showing how far they would take their logic, they dramatized the weakness of their case.

In signing the bill, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey cited “Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious & that every life is a sacred gift from God.” If every life is a sacred gift from God, how it came into being — by consensual sex or by rape — shouldn’t matter. In either case, the fetus is not to blame and is entitled to protection.

This may sound like a radical position. But it’s more common than you might realize. Last year, a Gallup Poll found that 43 percent of Americans who call themselves “pro-life” don’t favor exceptions for rape or incest.

The Republican Party’s national 2016 platform asserts, “The unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed,” with no mention of exceptions. The Texas Republican Party leaves no wiggle room when it says it wants to “completely abolish legal abortion.” Officials of several organizations have signed a letter urging the Republican Party to ban all abortions.

The absolutists have a point. If the life of the fetus is the sole consideration, other factors don’t matter. What matters least of all are the interests of pregnant women. By rejecting any exceptions, anti-abortion advocates starkly reveal their belief that each uterus belongs to everyone except the person in whom it resides.

If a fetus conceived in rape were granted all the rights of personhood at conception, the pregnant woman would forfeit control over her body, compelled to carry a fetus created without her consent. A vicious criminal could enslave her to bear his offspring — and to endure the lasting consequences of becoming a mother.

Or suppose that a child needs a liver transplant. “Even if, because of tissue type, only her father can provide a segment of liver that her body will not reject, our laws have never required any such sacrifice of him,” wrote Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe in his book, “Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes.”

The fact that the father chose to conceive the child makes no difference. His willingness to engage in behavior that leads to a pregnancy and birth does not obligate him to make such a sacrifice.

The logic of “pro-lifers,” however, would justify even greater violations. Thirteen people die every day in this country awaiting kidney transplants, according to the National Kidney Foundation. We could prevent those deaths by requiring kidney donations to those in need, from anyone whose organs would be suitable. But we don’t.

And we’d all agree that if someone needing a kidney tried to extract one from someone without her consent, she would be justified in using force in self-defense, including deadly force.

That’s not because we put no value on the lives of those who would be saved. It’s because we put a higher value on the personal freedom and bodily integrity of those who would be compelled to save them.

Someone impregnated through consensual sex, of course, would be subject to the same constraints. The difference, significant to some, is that she can be said to have incurred the obligation by her own choices.

But compulsory birth in the case of rape is only slightly more objectionable than in other cases. In either, the woman has to surrender her basic physical autonomy for the benefit of someone else, against her own will.

Under other comparable circumstances we would never impose such onerous obligations. Suppose that a man has defective sperm that are certain to produce only fetuses with horrific conditions that will cause death in utero. We could avert these grim outcomes by forcing him to get a vasectomy. But the intrusion on his body and the burden on his freedom would be too radical to accept.

To force women to go through pregnancy and give birth is a violation of the most severe and intimate kind. It’s not an affirmation of life. It’s a denial of the humanity of women.



Rape Is A Vile Crime, But The ‘Epidemic’ Of Campus Sexual Violence Is Exaggerated

Look, the Great Campus Rape Crisis was mainly hype all along. What Vice President Joe Biden described as an epidemic of sexual violence sweeping American college campuses in 2011 was vastly overstated. If people actually believed that 20 percent of college girls ended up being raped or sexually assaulted—as activists claimed—then they’d quit sending their daughters.

Instead, what’s happened on too many campuses has been a kind of psychosexual panic akin to the “recovered memory” episodes of the 1980s—such as the infamous McMartin preschool trial in Los Angeles, and the fantastic allegations of orgiastic rape and murder in Olympia, Washington described in Lawrence Wright’s terrific book Remembering Satan.

This is in no way to minimize rape, a vile crime deserving heavy prison time. Nor even boorish drunken carousing often winked at by college authorities even as Title IX administrators on the same campuses conduct Star Chamber sex investigations against students accorded none of the due process rights guaranteed in the US Constitution.

It’s not a criminal matter, you see. Merely one’s educational and professional future that can be at stake.

Somebody changes her mind after a one-night-stand and a young man may as well pack up and go home. That, or prepare himself for months in virtual exile, banned from anywhere on campus frequented by the “survivor” of this misbegotten tryst, while being interrogated by an administrator serving as one-size-fits-all investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury.

There is no right to remain silent. Refusal to testify against oneself can result in expulsion. No cross-examining one’s accuser, either. It’s thought too traumatic. Anything an accused student does say can be used against him at a criminal trial.

The standard of guilt is the “preponderance of evidence,” i.e. 51 percent. Were they alone together in his dorm room? OK, then he raped her.

I’m sorry, that does not sound like America.

If you think that’s too strong, check out the excellent series of investigative articles by The Atlantic’s Emily Yoffe. A careful, even scholarly reporter, Yoffe describes an upside-down world where the weaker the evidence of sexual transgression in too many instances, the stronger the finding of guilt.

Indeed, things on campus had gotten so out of hand that Trump administration Education Secretary Betsy De Vos has even taken time out from her busy schedule of attacking public schools to promise badly needed reforms to the Obama-mandated Title IX system.  Groups of law professors at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as the American Association of Trial Lawyers and the American Association of University Professors broadly support her.

Campus activists are certain to put up a fight. If nothing else, quite a few jobs could be at stake. Harvard University, for example, now has 55 Title IX investigators—full time sex sleuths, most of them.

“Who Gets to Define Campus Rape?” ask Miriam Gleckman-Krut and Nicole Bedera, University of Michigan “campus sexual violence researchers” in a recent New York Times op ed.  Definitely not judges and juries. “College tribunals,” we’re reminded “are not criminal courts.” Also, false rape accusations are perishingly rare—a truism among academic feminists that Yoffe shows to be based upon fallacious evidence.

In real life, of course, both men and women lie all the time, and sex is one of the topics they lie about most often. Ask any divorce lawyer.

But the real heart of the matter comes when Gleckman-Krut and Bedera insist that bad witnesses are the best witnesses: “[T]rauma can make survivors seem disorganized to campus administrators who are untrained.”

To Emily Yoffe, this is the intellectual heart of the matter. Based upon a highly influential, but highly unscientific paper called “The Neurobiology of Sexual Assault,” Title IX investigators have been taught that trauma wrecks memory, so that the more confused a victim’s story, the truer it’s apt to be.

Brain scientists Yoffe interviewed say otherwise, as does common experience. Terrible events too often can’t be forgotten. Intoxication, however, definitely makes for shaky recall. Meanwhile, as in “recovered memory” episodes of yore, overzealous inquisitors can persuade people of damn near anything.

Yoffe writes that her own reporting doesn’t “typically describe campuses filled with sociopathic predators. They mostly paint a picture of students, many of them freshmen, who begin a late-night consensual sexual encounter, well lubricated by alcohol, and end up with divergent views of what happened.”

 In short, basic Animal House stuff—more John Belushi than, well, Donald Trump. The Michigan team does patronizingly concede “that being accused of sexual assault hurts. And there are things that we can and should do to help accused students — namely, providing them with psychological counsel. But accused men’s pain does not excuse rape, and men shouldn’t be the ones defining it.”

Look, nothing excuses rape. Nowhere, never. But they can keep their psychological counseling. It’s legal counsel accused students need.

Let judges and juries do the defining.  

Donald Trump Accused Of Rape In Federal Court Lawsuit

Published with permission from Alternet.

A new lawsuit filed in Manhattan Federal Court alleges that Donald Trump repeatedly raped a 13-year-old girl a little over 20 years ago. According to the now-adult woman’s filing, the sexual assaults took place at parties held by Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire former hedge funder who pleaded guilty in 2008 to charges involving soliciting sex from underage girls as young as 14.

In the filing, the woman states the assaults took place in 1994. She said Epstein lured her to his Upper East Side home—then dubbed Wexner Mansion—with promises of a career in modeling and large sums of money. Once there, Jane Doe says she was violently raped by Trump, according to Death and Taxes:

In the court filing, “Defendant Trump” allegedly “initiated sexual contact with Plaintiff at four different parties. On the fourth and final sexual encounter with Defendant Trump, Defendant Trump tied Plaintiff to a bed, exposed himself to Plaintiff, and then proceeded to forcibly rape Plaintiff. During the course of this savage sexual attack, Plaintiff loudly pleaded with Defendant Trump to stop but with no effect. Defendant Trump responded to Plaintiff’s pleas by violently striking Plaintiff in the face with his open hand and screaming that he would do whatever he wanted.”
In the next section, she adds that “Immediately following this rape, Defendant Trump threatened Plaintiff that, were she ever to reveal any of the details of the sexual and physical abuse of her by Defendant Trump, Plaintiff and her family would be physically harmed if not killed.”

Jane Doe describes, in graphic detail, being anally and vaginally raped, and also being physically struck by Epstein. The complaint goes on to allege that Epstein threatened Jane Doe’s safety and that of her family should she reveal the attack to outside sources. “Both defendants let plaintiff know that each was a very wealthy, powerful man and indicated that they had the power, ability and means to carry out their threats,” the complaint states, according to the Real Deal.

Death and Taxes reports a second anonymous woman, identified as “Tiffany Doe,” who corroborates the charges in the lawsuit, stating that she witnessed the rape. Tiffany Doe testified that between 1991 and 2001, Epstein put her on his payroll, tasking her with bringing underage girls to parties.

Epstein—who was alleged to have preyed on dozens of underage girls throughout the 1990s and early aughts, but was convicted on a single charge for which he served 13 months—has refuted the woman’s claims. Trump Organization vice president and general counsel Alan Garten issued a statement saying the charges are “categorically untrue, completely fabricated and politically motivated,” according to the Daily News.

The lawsuit was originally filed in a California court. At the time, Jane Doe—who used her real name—did not have the aid of counsel in filing and the suit was dismissed due to problems with paperwork. Doe’s new lawyer, Thomas Meagher, told the Daily News the first filing also “cited statutes that did not apply to the case.”

Jane Doe is suing for $75,000, payment of her attorney’s fees, and an order of protection against Trump. She says she waited many years before filing suit out of fear that Trump and Epstein would make good on their promises to harm her family.

Trump has long admitted to being friendly with Epstein, telling New York Magazine several years ago, “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it, Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

In 2009, Mark Epstein, Jeffrey’s brother, testified under oath that Trump flew at least once on Epstein’s private plane, the so-called “Lolita Express,” according toVice. (According to flight logs, so did Bill Clinton.) The site also notes that Epstein’s private phone book, of which the FBI has a copy, includes phone numbers and information for Donald Trump, along with Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, Tony Blair, former Utah governor and Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, Senator Edward Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, and David Koch.

Vice writes that “in 2010, Epstein pled the Fifth when asked by a lawyer representing one of Epstein’s victims about his relationship with Trump:

Q: Have you ever had a personal relationship with Donald Trump?

A. What do you mean by “personal relationship,” sir?

Q. Have you socialized with him?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Yes?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Have you ever socialized with Donald Trump in the presence of females under the age of 18?

A: Though I’d like to answer that question, at least today I’m going to have to assert my Fifth, Sixth, and 14th Amendment rights, sir.”

In the 1993 book Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump, biographer Harry Hurt points to a deposition in which Trump’s ex-wife Ivana accused the billionaire of marital rape. According to the Daily Beast, which revisited the charge last year, just before the book went to print, Donald Trump’s lawyers provided a new statement from Ivana, in which she mitigated her original words:

“During a deposition given by me in connection with my matrimonial case, I stated that my husband had raped me. [O]n one occasion during 1989, Mr. Trump and I had marital relations in which he behaved very differently toward me than he had during our marriage. As a woman, I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which he normally exhibited towards me, was absent. I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”

In her complaint, Jane Doe contends that Donald Trump was aware that she was 13 at the time of the assaults.


Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump departs after he was deposed for a lawsuit involving partners in a restaurant venture at offices in Washington, U.S. June 16, 2016.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst   

Fix Culture That Makes A Brock Turner Possible

This is a column about the value of six.

Actually, it’s about three individual sixes and their respective values. The first six came after a 23-year-old woman — her name has never been revealed — spoke in court to address the man who raped her last year, who took her out behind the dumpsters and penetrated her with his fingers after she had too much to drink and passed out at a party. He might have gone further, except that he was spotted by two passersby who tackled him when he tried to run.

“You don’t know me,” she told 20-year-old Brock Turner, a former student at Stanford University, an Olympic hopeful in swimming, “but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.”

She spoke of the rape and its aftermath, including the fact that that awful night a year and a half ago has left her sleeping with the lights on “like a five year old.” In her statement (which you can — and should — read at the woman describes how it felt, after a long and invasive rape exam, to finally be alone with herself in the shower.

“I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”

Turner’s father, Dan, also offered a statement, pleading for leniency for his son. “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life.”

Turner was facing up to 14 years in prison. Judge Aaron Persky gave him the aforementioned six. Months.

A harsher sentence “would have a severe impact on him,” explained the judge.

Persky’s compassion for the rapist — and lack thereof for the victim — has detonated social media like a bomb. People are furious. They are weeping. They are calling Turner a “monster.” At this writing, a petition at demanding Persky’s recall stands north of 900,000 signatures.

Which brings us to the second six.

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network says that one woman in every six has been the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault. It’s an awesome, awful number. Think about it in terms of women you know. Think about Bonnie, Kadijah, Heather, Consuela, Sarah and Kim. One, two, three, four, five …


Maybe she’s never told you about it, so maybe you think it didn’t — couldn’t — have happened, not to one of your six. But the numbers are what the numbers are. Maryum, Stephanie, Yumiko, Keshia, Laurie … and Pam. One, two, three, four, five …

And six.

It’s not a big number. You were counting past it in kindergarten.

For an American woman, it’s a measure of the danger she faces from predatory men who consider her body to be their right. It is the difference between self-confidence and fear.

For Turner’s victim, it is a measure of the value the justice system placed on her trauma — and on her. It is the difference between the free woman she was and the frightened one she has become.

For Turner, it is the fraction of his life he’s been ordered to pay for the arrogant violation of another person’s self. It is the difference between spring and fall.

And here’s the final six: According to RAINN, only six in every thousand perpetrators of sexual assault end up in prison.

If you are a woman, or a man who cares about women, you ought to seethe, and then you ought to do whatever you can to fix a culture that makes possible a Brock Turner — and an Aaron Persky. Because, either way you look at it, the value of six is small — too small for safety, too small for solace.

And way too small for justice.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at

Photo: Former Stanford student Brock Turner, sentenced to six months in county jail for the sexual assault of an unconscious and intoxicated woman is shown in this Santa Clara County Sheriff’s booking photo taken January 18, 2015, and received June 7, 2016. Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department/Handout via REUTERS