State Rep. Barry Hovis

State Representative Barry Hovis said on the House floor that there is something called “consensual rape” that is more common than “a gentlemen jumping out of the bushes.”

No matter your stance on reproductive rights and the rights of the unborn, anyone with a conscience or soul must recoil at the thought of girls and women being forced to carry a pregnancy to term in the case of rape or incest. Yet this will be the law of the land in Missouri if and when Governor Mike Parson almost certainly signs into law House Bill 126, known as “Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act,” which criminalizes abortion at eight weeks’ gestation, punishable with five to 15 years in prison for doctors who perform them. Parson takes no umbrage at the bill’s extremities. In fact, these extremities are central to the extreme right’s strategy to bring “fetal personhood” to the U.S. Supreme Court where the conservative majority can overturn Roe v. Wade.

Eight states have passed bills to limit abortion procedures this year, spurred on by the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh which tipped the Supreme Court to a conservative-right majority. Far-right Republicans have become more strident – and, perhaps reckless – fueled by Trump’s tribal warfare, general lawlessness, and scorched-earth antics. This should come as no surprise. The prospect of doing away with Roe v. Wade was what brought the white religious right to support a philanderer with a history of hedonism, sexual assault and dubious business practices.  

Even through this, the Missouri legislature, the floor debate of House Bill 126 did have some surprisingly – even shockingly – ignorant and offensive moments. State Representative Barry Hovis (R-Cape Girardeau) went national as a meme for voicing his sincere belief – based on his experience in law enforcement, he said – that there is something called “consensual rape” that is more common than, he said, “a gentlemen jumping out of the bushes.” Such a hideously ignorant and dangerous statement is indicative of a mindset that rationalizes forcing girls and women to carry their pregnancies to term, even if they are carrying the child of their rapist, even if their rapist is a family member. 

This ignores the clear and devastating fact that violence against women in its many forms endangers their health and well-being and threatens their right to their own bodies. Some women may endure and, on some level, transcend this violence, but most face protracted struggles for their mental health, well-being and quality of life. This is especially true for girls and women of limited means, because the so-called “Pro-Life” movement shows little interest in providing social support to women and children once the child is born.

A society that does not protect the most vulnerable amongst us from violence, including sexual violence, and instead inscribes it in law is barbaric and should be unacceptable to anyone who values human decency and human rights.

We must remind our ignorant elected leaders of the tragic, persistently high, black infant mortality rates, disproportionate to the rest of the U.S. population. This abomination isn’t being addressed by the extreme right “Pro-Life” movement, which painfully reminds us that African-American women and children living in poverty and distress are less of a concern to them than a fetus. These conditions are often preventable and can be successfully treated if proper attention is paid and adequate resources provided to fortify the lives of black women and children.

African-American women in St. Louis are particularly vulnerable at this time when our community has one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted disease in the country. Rather than increasingly restrictive family planning options, we need to raise the consciousness, particularly among our youth, of safe sex practices. We must teach them how they can develop a healthy, respectful appreciation of their bodies and their sexuality, establish and defend personal boundaries, and access the appropriate medical services. If HB 126 becomes law, young women will again risk death if they are forced to go underground to get an abortion, or administer abortions to themselves without proper medical attention.

For the moment, Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land. Programs, clinics, and health care facilities that provide health services to women, including abortion, while under threat, are still legally available (though in the entire state of Missouri, only in St. Louis). Women still may continue to visit doctors and providers who can help them with their reproductive decisions and provide them with basic health care. We anticipate and encourage legal challenges that try to stay these bans. 

It is up to the people – a diverse amalgamation of women, men and transgenders in this country – who are resisting this rapacious war against women’s rights. Many are willing to stand up and put their bodies on the line to protect their reproductive rights and those of our daughters.  It’s this mass of people taking to the streets that poses the greatest threat to those who seek to turn back the clock and tighten the grip of white male supremacy in this country.  Because it is clear that this assault on women’s rights is aligned with the efforts heightened during this Trump administration to impose social control on groups that challenge a regressive, hierarchical order in this country.

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