The Political Uses of Violence Against Women

Photo: AP

Conservative and misogynist wisdom often dictates that the most direct justification for curtailing women’s rights, thus perpetuating harm, is found in the body. Reactionary criticism of New York’s Reproductive Health Act, which strengthens the state’s abortion protections and passed the newly progressive state senate in January, has adopted this tactic.

The bill codifies certain rights pertaining to women’s reproductive health, a necessary update of state abortion law from 1970, three years before Roe v. Wade. The bill was ratified, in part, as a precautionary measure should the laws of the land that regulate abortion access be overturned. Nine other states have already put similar protections in place.

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According to reports and the anti-abortion blogosphere, the bill’s detractors have argued that one of its measures, which reclassifies state abortion law as a health statute rather than letting it remain under the penal code, will have the side effect of doing away with legal punishment for violence that ends pregnancies. To further their disingenuous anti-abortion campaign, the New York Time reports Republicans have cited the case of Anthony Hobson, arrested and charged earlier this month with second-degree murder of his ex-girlfriend, 35-year-old Jennifer Irigoyen. Hobson stabbed Irigoyen while she was 14 weeks pregnant. Queens district attorney Richard Brown said that the bill is to blame for his decision not to charge Hobson with criminal abortion as well.

Democratic State Senators Liz Krueger and Anna Kaplan wrote in a recent op-ed for the Times Union of Albany about why this criticism of the bill fails even to make any legal sense:

“The RHA removes abortion from the penal code, treating it just like every other medical procedure. This has led to accusations that the RHA eliminates the ability for victims to seek justice when a violent crime causes the loss of a pregnancy. This is yet more misinformation.

Physical assault resulting in the loss of pregnancy qualifies as first-degree assault, which carries a penalty of five to 25 years, far more than the previous sentence for ‘unlawful abortion.’ Furthermore, judges have discretion to increase the penalty in cases where the crime was particularly violent. The RHA does not prevent appropriate charging and sentencing of violent perpetrators.”

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In the narrow case of Hobson’s criminal proceedings, Daniel Alonso, the former chief assistant prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, says adding an abortion charge would not have had any effect on his sentence. Alonso told the Times, “The basic thing is, because the killing of the fetus is the same act as the killing of the mother, even though they were separate charges under the old law, you couldn’t get more than 25 to life.”

There are plenty of recent examples of the Republican party and conservative media manipulating the concept of violence against women to shield them from valid criticism of myriad insidious agendas, all of which are pretty much guaranteed to fuck women over. Donald Trump gleefully lies about the need to militarize our southern border lest American woman be assaulted by asylum-seeking citizens of other countries, whom he has referred to as “animals.” In November, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied about CNN journalist Jim Acosta having “placed his hands on a young woman,” a White House intern, in order to justify the revocation of his press privileges.

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I’d argue that a certain beloved Republican talking point during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings—that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was certainly the victim of force, just not at the hands of a future Supreme Court justice—employed the same basic strategy: admit women experience violence in order to perpetuate it.

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About the author

Hannah Gold

contributing writer, nights