Victoria Steele’s courageous testimony showed why “rape exceptions” are a sham


Crossposted from

Edited to correctly identify the committee chair. It was Kelly Townsend, not Kelli Ward. My bad.

Alas, due to our stupidly slow “high speed internet” connection at the house, I’ve been unable to view the two and a half hour Arizona House Federalism and States’ Rights (seriously?) Committee hearing from Wednesday. But there was one part that made the news, and for good reason. It was when Democratic Rep. Victoria Steele of Tucson, who was testifying against SB1318 (which denies insurance coverage for abortion, among other things), was overcome by the whole thing and shared how she had been a repeated victim of sexual assault by a family member as a young girl.

victoria steeleSorry for the screen shot instead of embedded video but Channel 12 insists upon them opening immediately

Permit me a brief sidetrack to note that the news clip showing the torsos of several heavily pregnant women is a good illustration of why abortion politics are so messed up in this country. The vast majority of abortions occur in the first trimester, several weeks or months before a “baby bump” is apparent so this imagery is shockingly and irresponsibly misleading. Do better, news people.

So anyway, Rep. Steele went up to the podium with every intention, as she says, of being the “calm voice” about the bill. But when she was asked by Committee Chair Kelly Townsend (R) to defend the proposition that abortion is health care she remembered what happened to her, which had happened to other girls in her family. One of those girls was impregnated and, because it was pre-Roe, had to get an illegal abortion.

Townsend responded to Steele’s heart-wrenching account by insisting that there are exceptions in the bill for rape and incest victims. I tweeted Townsend earlier today to ask what the exact process for a rape victim to get one of those coverage exemptions was. I haven’t heard back from her yet and don’t expect I will. There is no language in the bill (because there never is) specifying what, precisely, a woman seeking an abortion has to do to qualify for one. Does whomever she presents herself to for that exceptional abortion merely take her word for it, or does she need a notarized affidavit? Is a police report required? Does there have to be a conviction or, in the absence of a captured suspect, a preponderance of evidence that the girl or woman was brutally raped such that would comport with the fantasies of this infamous South Dakota state senator?

“A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.”

It’s not hard to understand why so few rape and incest victims report, considering how they must wade through whatever they’ve internalized (Was it my fault? Did I lead him on? What will it do to our family if I tell anyone?) and knowing or intuiting that they will face authority figures (like our friend from South Dakota) who are deeply invested in disturbing narratives about rape that require victims to be religious virgins brutalized within an inch of their lives for it to be “legitimate rape”. It’s not hard to understand, then, that rape and incest victims would decide that trying to get coverage for the abortion was not worth the hassle and the constant reliving of the trauma. Thus, rape exceptions on a purely practical level are essentially worthless.

So when someone like Rep. Townsend claims that rape and incest exceptions will be in an anti-choice law, she is engaging (whether she realizes it or not) in craven and lazy posturing. She gets to look reasonable without doing any heavy lifting on explaining how rape exceptions would work. (They don’t.) Luckily for her and other anti-choicers, journalists rarely bother to ask that obvious question.

Cathi Herrod, who is about the most glib and disciplined anti-choicer you will ever find, didn’t bother engaging directly with Channel 12’s request for a comment on Rep. Steele’s testimony:

“No matter what you think about abortion, we should all be able to agree that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for abortion, and women should be presented with the facts before making a life-altering decision. SB 1318 accomplishes both of these goals. Arizona’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, makes SB 1318 critically necessary. Not only does Planned Parenthood continue to advocate for taxpayer money to subsidize their abortion business, but recently, Planned Parenthood’s Glendale clinic wrongfully informed a woman that there was nothing they could do to reverse her medication abortion. Thankfully, the woman got connected with a local board-certified OB/GYN who was able to start her on a medication regiment to reverse the pill’s effect. She now has a healthy-growing pregnancy.”

Herrod, who does not give a rip about rape victims and does not have to pretend to care about them since she’s not in the Arizona Legislature, stayed on her own message about “taxpayers” (a group that apparently does not include pro-choice people or women who have abortions) and a ridiculous and discredited theory about “abortion reversal”. That speaks volumes about how the anti-choice movement, despite the lip service sometimes paid to “rape exceptions” by their politicians, has no intention of honoring them in any meaningful way. Which is no surprise since anti-choice activists oppose rape exceptions anyway.


  1. I felt the same way seeing late stage pregnant bellies in this news piece. No wonder people are so misinformed on this topic.

  2. I’m so proud that Rep. Victoria Steele is my state representative. She is an exceptional person.

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