Circular Firing Squad

I was gonna stay out of this, since I have to be at work in an hour, but incredibly, even Sarah Palin is piling on…

Sarah Palin slammed GOP Senate hopeful Todd Akin’s decision to continue his bid for the Missouri seat and suggested that she might back a third-party challenger in an interview on Fox News Tuesday night.

“He’s inviting himself back into this general election that’s coming up, and he’s going to get defeated. And that’s unfortunate,” the former Alaska governor said on “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.” “That is why we have to think pragmatically about this, and we have to think, well, what’s another option? Is a third-party another option? If it is, let’s go. The status quo has got to go.”

Todd Akin’s real mistake was to put in crude terms what will most certainly become the official platform of the Republican Party– a personhood amendment that bans terminating a pregnancy from fertilization on, with no exceptions for rape or any other circumstances.

Since there’s no way to track the moment of fertilization, anti-abortion activists endorse a disproven belief that emergency contraception might prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. Therefore they want to ban the ‘morning after’ pill. (see here for more on the science.)

Emergency contraception is the standard of care for rape victims who come to the emergency room. This standard is not always followed.

In 2008 I wrote a post, Crime and the Politics of Sexual Assault in Alaska, that demonstrates how politics corrupts legal and medical care for crime victims. I never said Sarah Palin wasn’t very smart, and it’s no accident that when she was mayor in Wasilla, AK, rape victims had to pay for their own forensic exam and emergency care. This would give Mayor Palin deniability if she should ever face a challenge from the anti-abortion Right.

There’s really no daylight between Todd Akin and the rest of the Republican Party. Akin disclosed his fantasy that a certain level of physical violence has a contraceptive effect, the Republican party says that’s crude. Both say that a woman’s personhood and agency come second to a pregnancy, or even a potential conception regardless of circumstances. Texas may succeed in closing down Planned Parenthood in the state, no aspect of women’s care matters more than banning abortion. Toward the goal of total purity on that issue, the most extreme would ban all artificial birth control.

This is far from the mainstream of the American public, and no Republican president has been able to fulfill this agenda.

But in Wasilla, in emergency rooms, in times of crisis these policies harm women and abandon those who deserve the protection of law. ‘We’ll pray for those people’ is not an answer.

AND ANOTHER THING: It’s clearly unfair to pile on Rep. Akin’s use of the phrase ‘legitimate rape’. He obviously meant that a woman has no right to claim rape unless she is visibly beat up or threatened with a weapon by a person who has no social status. That’s another outrageous statement, but a whole other blog post is needed to address it.

Crime and the Politics of Sexual Assault in Alaska

The previous post, ‘Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner–SANE’is intended to explain the forensic rape exam, which is in the news lately because the town of Wasilla, Alaska billed victims for the rape exam until the practice was outlawed by Governor Tony Knowles in May, 2000. This was during Sarah Palin’s tenure as Mayor, which ran from 1996-2002.

The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Wasilla’s local newspaper, covered a press conference on the new law and interviewed the Wasilla Police Chief, Charlie Fannon.

First, Governor Knowles…

We would never bill the victim of a burglary for fingerprinting and photographing the crime scene, or for the cost of gathering other evidence, Knowles said. Nor should we bill rape victims just because the crime scene happens to be their bodies.

Next Chief Fannon…

Wasilla Police Chief Charlie Fannon does not agree with the new legislation, saying the law will require the city and communities to come up with more funds to cover the costs of the forensic exams.
In the past we’ve charged the cost of exams to the victims insurance company when possible. I just don’t want to see any more burden put on the taxpayer, Fannon said.

According to Fannon, the new law will cost the Wasilla Police Department approximately $5,000 to $14,000 a year to collect evidence for sexual assault cases.

Ultimately it is the criminal who should bear the burden of the added costs, Fannon said.

The forensic exam is just one part of the equation. I’d like to see the courts make these people pay restitution for these things, Fannon said.
Fannon said he intends to include the cost of exams required to collect evidence in a restitution request as a part of a criminals sentencing.

It’s hard to believe that the Chief of Police didn’t know that the vast majority of sexual assault cases do not end in a trial, never mind a conviction. It’s strange that he saw the rape exam as a burden on the taxpayer when his mandate is to fight crime. Losing potential evidence didn’t seem to concern him. The possibility that victims would be discouraged from seeking care because they lack health insurance, or fear being dropped from their insurance or losing their privacy–“the likelihood that rape will go unreported, doesn’t factor in.

And where was the Mayor? It’s one of the Mayor’s responsibilities to work closely with the Chief of Police. In the absence of any record of Mayor Palin publicly rebuking Chief Fannon for his statements it can only be assumed that she endorsed his view.

Why would a female Mayor not support a law that ended an unfair and harmful practice that affected mostly women? Why was she not receptive to victim’s advocate groups? One answer may be contained in the last two sentences of the news report. (As I have been cutting and pasting, I’ve put a link to the entire news story here.)

The new bill would also make law enforcement agencies that are investigating a sexual assault responsible for the costs of testing victims for sexually transmitted diseases and emergency contraception.

The Day One SANE training manual includes nine single-space pages of a Catholic review of the ethics of emergency contraception. The essay concludes that it is permissible for a woman to use emergency contraception after a rape. There are more conservative religions that consider it an act of conscience to fail to offer, or to deny access to protection from an unwanted pregnancy. Women are denied emergency contraception in hospitals and at pharmacies, and laws are proposed to shield practitioners from any responsibility for any harm resulting.

A Mayor who belongs to a very conservative church might not welcome the discomfort of having her name associated with a practice that some call abortion. She might not want to go on record as supporting state funding for the morning after pill, even for victims of rape.

And crime victims are in a place no one wants to be, faced with decisions no one wants to have to make. No simple answers, no powerful lobby, and way too close to the violent misogyny that oppresses women worldwide.