Women Who’ve Been Pregnant Through Sexual
Assault Plead For Public Hearings
SPRINGFIELD, IL (June 23, 2004)– A group of women who have experienced pregnancies resulting from rape or incest are petitioning Congress and state legislatures to hear their stories, saying women who become pregnant from sexual assault don’t want or need abortions.
The petition comes on the heels of a Defense Department appropriations amendment by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) that would authorize federal funding of abortions for military personnel who become pregnant from sexual assault.
The petition from the Ad Hoc Committee of Women Pregnant by Sexual Assault (WPSA) asks federal and state legislators to “hold public hearings at which we and other women who have become pregnant through sexual assault will be invited to discuss our unique needs and concerns.”
WPSA was formed after the publication of Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions and Children Resulting from Sexual Assault, a book of personal testimonies collected from women who have experienced a sexual assault pregnancy. The group says that pregnant sexual assault victims have been either ignored or misrepresented by politicians and the media because of the polarizing effects of the national abortion debate.
“In most cases, it is only in the context of highly divisive debates over abortion that we are discussed,” the petition reads. “In virtually every case, the people who claim to be defending our interests have never taken the time to actually listen to us to learn about our true circumstances, needs, and concerns.”
Kathleen DeZeeuw, who became pregnant after being raped as a teen and gave birth to a son, Patrick, wrote in Victims and Victors that she feels “personally assaulted and insulted every time I hear that abortion should be legal because of rape and incest. I feel that we’re being used to further the abortion issue, even though we’ve not been asked to tell our side of the story.”
WPSA members say that because women who have actually been pregnant following sexual assault have never been given a forum to describe their real experiences, public policies fail to offer pregnant sexual assault victims the care and support they need. Instead, public funding for abortions following rape or incest may give women, their family members, and health care providers the false impression that abortion is proven to be helpful in these circumstances.
Scientific research on the matter is scarce. According to David Reardon, Ph.D, an editor of Victims and Victors and author of numerous studies on post-abortion complications, there are actually no published studies that have demonstrated any therapeutic benefits of abortion, either in general or in the specific case of pregnancies resulting from sexual assault.
“Those who favor abortions have simply assumed that abortion will produce benefits,” Reardon said. “But the women who have actually been in these circumstances who have come forward are more likely to report that their abortions deepened and aggravated the psychological trauma they had already experienced as sexual assault victims. Abortion is not a cure-all.”
WPSA member Arlene Anzalone, who had an abortion after being raped at the age of 26, says that “slowly but surely,” more women are being open about their abortions and the pain they experienced as a result. “I believe that as each of us who are willing to speak out comes forward to talk about this issue, there will be more to come,” she said.
Nearly 200 women submitted letters or testimonies for Victims and Victors, making it the largest sample of information ever collected from women who have experienced a sexual assault pregnancy. In an analysis of the submissions included in the book, 88 percent of those who had abortions said they regretted their abortions and that abortion only compounded the trauma of the sexual assault Only one woman reported no regrets, while the remainder of the women either made no statements regarding their abortions or were uncertain if their lives would have been better or worse than if they had not had abortions. By contrast, none of the women who carried to term said they subsequently regretted their decisions to give birth.
Heather Gemmen, a WPSA member whose eight-year-old daughter, Rachael, was conceived in a rape, says that talking about her experience has helped her find healing.
“It’s because I came out that I have restoration,” Gemmen said. “When you’re raped, you suddenly become part of a secret club you didn’t know existed. And I don’t want this club to be secret anymore. I want to help other people voice their pain.”
Reardon believes the time for hearings has come. “If Senator Boxer truly cares about women who become pregnant from sexual assault, she will be the first to join this call for hearings. Giving these women a chance to tell their side of the story is long overdue.”
Contact: Amy Sobie, (217) 525-8202
Additional signers are welcome to call the above number.
Persons who support public hearings to allow women who have become pregnant following sexual assault to testify about their experiences are encouraged to call
- Senator Barbara Boxer at (202) 224-3553 or via http://boxer.senate.gov
- Senator Bill Fritz at (202) 224-3344 http://frist.senate.gov/
- Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert (202) 224.3121
from the Ad Hoc Committee of
Women Pregnant by Sexual Assault (WPSA)
We, the undersigned, having each experienced a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, hereby petition the U.S. Congress and individual state legislatures to hold public hearings at which we and other women who have become pregnant from sexual assault will be invited to discuss our unique needs and concerns. The reasons for such hearings are set out below.
Every year, legislators, judges, and other policy makers discuss the problems of women who have become pregnant as a result of sexual assault. These discussions take place without ever first soliciting our input. In most cases, it is only in the context of highly divisive debates over abortion that we are discussed. In virtually every case, those people who claim to be defending our interests have never taken the time to actually listen to us to learn about our true circumstances, needs, and concerns.
We are deeply offended and dismayed each time our difficult circumstances are exploited for public consumption to promote the political agenda of others. This is a grave injustice. In pursuing their political agendas, these exploiters have reduced our concerns, needs, and circumstances to a crude caricature.
Those who claim to represent our interests have never sought our authorization to represent us. They do not know us, understand us, or truly care about us. Just as we were once used, without our consent, to gratify the sexual desires of others, so we continue to be used, without our consent, to gratify the political goals of others.
Only we who have actually experienced a sexual assault pregnancy truly understand the trauma, fears, concerns, and needs of our sisters who are, or will someday become, pregnant as a result of rape or incest.
Each year, thousands of women will face this experience. Unless society at large begins to listen to us today, these other women will, like us, face great difficulty in finding authentic understanding and help.
The issue of sexual assault pregnancies is both delicate and complicated. Even women who have been sexually assaulted but did not become pregnant can only speak in terms of their own fears rather than their actual experience. Only women who were or are pregnant by sexual assault can knowledgeably testify about this experience.
Our experiences are varied. Many of us carried our pregnancies to term. Some of us raised or are raising our children, while others placed our children in adoptive homes. Others of us had abortions. In some cases, we freely chose abortion. In many other cases, we felt pressured to abort by family members, social workers, and doctors who insisted that abortion was the “best” solution. For many the abortion caused physical and emotional trauma equal to or exceeding the trauma of the sexual assault that our abortions were supposed to “cure.”
We are the only ones who can bear witness to our real experiences and our real needs. How long will you refuse to listen to us?
1. Arlene Anzalone (MI)
2. Eleanor Attonito (NJ)
3. Diana Conley (OH)
4. Sue B. Evans (LA)
5. Heather Gemmen (CO)
6. Virginia Greene (AL)
7. Jeanette Himko (PA)
8. Sarah Hoover (HI)
9. Mary V. Hopkins (MI)
10. Dorcas O. King (WY)
11. Suzanne L. Maurer (HI)
12. Laurie McDevitt (IL)
13. Susan Renne (TX)
14. Louise Simmons (VA)
15. Cynthia Speltz (MN)
16. Patricia Storms (CA)
17. Kay Ziblolsky (WI)
18. Diane (RI)
19. Gloriann (CA)
20. Helene (IL)
21. Lisa (CA)
22. Marie (CA)
23. Maura (WA)
24. Ruby (BC)
25. Shirley (CO)
26. Jane Doe # 1 (OH)
27. Jane Doe #2 (KS)
28. Jane Doe #3 (OS)
There are three levels of signatories to this document: public (willing to publicly testify or be interviewed using their true identities, and identified with their full names); semi-private (willing to testify or be interviewed under various terms, possibly with a requirement for anonymity, and identified by first name only); and anonymous (identified as a “Jane Doe,” due to personal or familial concerns that require privacy).
Contact with the above named persons, upon authorized agreement, may be initiated through the Elliot Institute, (217) 525-8202.