You may have seen a TV ad in which I call out Congressman Steve Daines’ anti-women voting record. The story I share in the ad is very personal, one that may make some people uncomfortable, but it’s one that has shaped the way I look at how decisions affecting women’s health are made. Too often, rape survivors are silenced. We are silenced through the act of violence itself. We are silenced by our friends or family who don’t believe us or call us “martyrs” for daring to speak out. We are silenced by a judicial system that more often than not puts the victim on trial and not the criminal. We are silenced by fear, shame and social stigma.
We are also silenced by politicians who stand in the way of freedom of choice. Congressman Daines opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest. He would even make rape victims into criminals if they choose to have an abortion. As a survivor, I am profoundly offended by the idea of a government official standing in the way of a decision as deeply personal as that. I, and the majority of Americans, believe that no government should have the power to tell its citizens what they may or may not do with their bodies. No government should have the power to tie the hands of trained, licensed medical professionals to provide care. The American Medical Association “strongly condemn(s) any interference by the government or other third parties that causes a physician to compromise his or her medical judgment as to what information or treatment is in the best interest of the patient.”
Congressman Daines doesn’t share those beliefs. He has voted repeatedly for some of the most aggressive anti-choice legislation in decades and sponsored a so-called “personhood” bill, which would grant all fertilized eggs full legal and constitutional rights, effectively criminalizing abortion. These personhood bills could make some forms of birth control illegal, open up miscarriages to criminal investigation, and prohibit in-vitro fertilization. You may recall Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remarks about abortion and pregnancy resulting from a “legitimate rape.” Daines tried to distance himself from Akin’s position, yet he still voted in support of the bill in question with no exception for victims of rape or incest. In 2012, “Daines noted that his position is the same as the national Republican Party’s platform: that abortion should be legal only to save the life of the mother.”
I was only 14 years old when I was raped. Like many other victims, I was ashamed and afraid of what people would say about me if they found out about it. Even if the abortion bans Daines supports included exceptions for victims of rape or incest, it still wouldn’t be enough to protect girls like me. Rape or incest exceptions usually include a police reporting requirement. Rape and sexual assault are some of the most underreported crimes in our nation with fewer than 35 percent reported to police (according to the U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey.) I was too afraid to tell even my closest friends or family; the idea of walking into a police station and telling a stranger behind bulletproof glass about what an older boy had forced me to do was too much to bear. These additional reporting requirements are an attempt to judge and shame women for being victims of violent crimes.
I didn’t have a choice about what happened to me when I was raped, but I should have a choice about what happens to me now. Montana women deserve the freedom and respect to make their own choices about their bodies. We deserve better than politicians deciding what we may do with our bodies. Abortion is a deeply personal decision for any woman. We are not in her shoes, and those decisions should be left to the woman with the counsel of her family, her doctor and her faith—not her congressman or senator.
Telling this story publicly took a lot of courage, but I’m not alone. One in four of your friends and family is also carrying a story of their own about sexual violence. Many of these stories are never uttered aloud. Think of those loved ones when you vote for our next senator because the elected leaders who share—or don’t share—these values are going to be deciding on laws that affect real people’s lives.