Alabama’s Democratic House Representative Juandalynn Givan has pre-filed a bill that will add a rape exception to the state’s abortion ban. Controversially, the bill also proposes to punish rapists with castration.
According to Jezebel, the legislation, which mandates that male rapists undergo a vasectomy “or some [other] form of castration,” follows Givan’s promises to increase penalties for sex offenders.
“In recent years, the Legislature has passed laws restricting reproduction rights in the state and the penalties have been imposed only on women. It’s time for that to change,” Givan said in a statement to Newsweek. “The last time I checked a biology textbook, it takes a woman and a man to make a baby. Men in Alabama need to be held to the same level of responsibility as women,” she added.
In a further interview with WVTM on Sunday 4 February 2024, the lawyer stated: “If there is a young girl who has been raped or there’s incest involved or a woman that has been raped, the bill would require a man, if found guilty, to have a vasectomy or some form of castration.”
Alabama is actually one of several states that already have chemical castration laws. Givan’s bill extends preexisting legislation which requires anyone convicted of a sex offence against someone under 13 to start chemical castration treatment at least a month before release on parole.
This law also requires offenders to pay for the treatment. Chemical castration treatment can cost $1,000 a month for the medication alone.
When the state of Alabama passed the law in 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union, a nonprofit human rights organisation, condemned it as unconstitutional. The organisation described it as “cruel and unusual punishment” and stated that “forced medications are all concerns.”
Givan stated that her bill is supposed to inspire a dialogue about reproductive rights and the way in which women’s bodies are policed to a much higher extent than men’s bodies are. “No one’s telling a man what not to do with his private parts,” the politician.
Nevertheless, it has been called into question how effective the bill will be in preventing rape or supporting victims.
On 24 January 2024, a study by JAMA Internal Medicine recorded a staggering 64,565 rape-related pregnancies in 14 states that have banned abortion since June 2022—this is align with the landmark overturning of Roe v Wade. Some of these states also have rape exceptions for abortions. Still, no more than ten legal abortions were reported in any of the 14 states with abortion bans during the observed time frame. It is assumed that the actual number of victims is much higher since only 21 per cent of survivors report their assault to law enforcement.
In July 2022, the National Domestic Violence Hotline revealed that it saw a 99 per cent increase in calls from people saying their partners were trying to control their reproductive choices. Callers said their abusers blocked their access to birth control pills, lied to them about abortion laws, and threatened to report them to the police if they sought abortion care. This type of abuse is called reproductive coercion. It is an often overlooked aspect of domestic violence, although it is quite common. Refusing to use a condom or other form of contraception, lying about using a method of birth control, such as getting a vasectomy, or tempering with birth control methods, such as poking a hole in a condom, are further examples of this reproductive rights violation.
Nevertheless, there is little, if any, legislation that penalises these sorts of actions. In 2015, coercive control was made illegal in the UK. However, there have not been many prosecutions of those who have been accused, as reported by Glamour.
“With abortion bans, state laws have really put controlling someone’s access to reproductive health care in the toolbox of abusive partners,” a spokesperson for the domestic violence hotline, Crystal Justice, told Jezebel.
Consequently, a rape exception or higher penalties for offenders will only benefit a small faction of women who have been victimised by sexual violence. The majority of survivors will likely be unaffected by legislation like this because they do not have sufficient support or other crucial resources to come forward.
Kylie Cheung from Jezebel argued that if Givan’s goal was truly to make abortion care more accessible, the law would make a greater effort to lift restrictions in the state and boost programmes that benefit survivors, rather than inflicting harm on men’s bodies to even the scales. While this bill might start a dialogue, it ultimately takes the conversation in the wrong direction by promoting grievance politics rather than genuine liberation.
“Instead of trying to recreate the uniquely gendered harm abortion bans inflict on women for men, we should be trying to get rid of bans altogether so everyone can be free. And I’m ultimately sceptical that stunt bills like this bring us any closer to that,” Cheung concluded.