I’m Still Thinking About That Utah Republican Saying Women Can ‘Control Intake of Semen’

A decade after Todd Akin's “legitimate rape” comment sparked a national outcry, Roe is gone, and Akin's backwards views are only becoming more mainstream.

I’m Still Thinking About That Utah Republican Saying Women Can ‘Control Intake of Semen’

Across party lines, politicians had very different reactions to the fall of Roe v. Wade last Friday. One Utah Republican state representative’s reaction of choice was simply rape apologia.

“I got a text message today saying I should seek to control men’s ejaculations and not women’s pregnancies,” state Rep. Karianne Lisonbee said at a celebratory news conference last week. “I do trust women enough to control when they allow a man to ejaculate inside of them and to control that intake of semen.”

Lisonbee’s comments rightfully drew a wave of backlash—including Esquire calling them “really icky”—as many noted the disrespectful connotations for survivors who are impregnated by rape. The notion that women and people with uteruses can simply opt to not get pregnant by deploying witchcraft to “control that intake of semen” amounts to a level of victim-blaming we haven’t seen since Todd Akin’s 2012 “legitimate rape” statement. Lest you bleached your brain of the memory of Akin’s words, the late Republican US Senate candidate claimed victims of “legitimate rape” have the god-given power to simply not get pregnant, to justify banning abortion without rape exceptions.

In the wake of this backlash, Lisonbee semi-walked back her statement on Saturday, clarifying to the Salt Lake Tribune that “women do not have a choice when they are raped and have protections under Utah’s trigger law.” To access those “protections,” of course, they’ll have to report and prove their rape to state authorities.

But at no point did Lisonbee explicitly apologize for her words. “My first statement in the press conference made clear the actions I have taken to pass bills that provide legal protection and recourse to victims of sexual assault,” she said. “The political and social divide in America seems to be expanding at an ever-faster pace. I am committed to ongoing respectful and civil engagement. I can always do better and will continue to try.”

“Icky” as Lisonbee’s celebratory post-Roe comments were, I’m still thinking about them and how infuriatingly unsurprising they are. Ten years after “legitimate rape,” Roe is gone, and Republicans are still the party of Todd Akin.

This sort of depravity from anti-abortion politicians seems to be so normalized even Democrats are willing to write it off as simply misspeaking. Angela Romero, a Utah Democrat who’s reportedly worked on bills on sexual assault, came to Lisonbee’s defense, telling the Tribune this week that she didn’t think Lisonbee intentionally meant to be “harmful,” and that we just “have to be sensitive to how we phrase things.”

Of course, anti-abortion lawmakers aren’t just insensitively phrasing their disdain for rape survivors. In recent months, Jezebel has reported on a Michigan Republican candidate who said he’d told his daughters, “If rape is inevitable, you should just lie back and enjoy it.” An Ohio Republican in the state legislature called pregnancy from rape “an opportunity.” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) last year justified the lack of rape exception in Texas’ six-week abortion ban by claiming he would simply eliminate rape by ramping up policing—and we all know how great police are at handling sexual assaults!!

This utterly depraved language mirrors Republicans’ policies, too: Of the handfuls of abortion bans state legislatures have passed this year, few have exceptions for rape—and very few of the state trigger laws that took effect with the fall of Roe have rape exceptions, too. Anti-abortion lawmakers have become increasingly shameless on this issue. They once had to pretend to care about victims, to disavow politicians like Akin, and at least theoretically give those pesky, impregnated rape victims a chance to prove their trauma in exchange for health care. But today, with the Supreme Court and a majority of state legislatures in their control, they can say the quiet part out loud.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) admitted earlier this week that the state’s total abortion ban, which took effect when Roe was overturned and lacks a rape exception, could force rape survivors as young as 13 to carry their rapist’s babies, and he acknowledged the depravity of this. But he also refused to do anything about it. “I would prefer a different outcome than that, but that’s not the debate today in Arkansas. It might be in the future, but for now, the law triggered with only one exception … in the case of the life of the mother.”

I can’t emphasize enough that rape exceptions to abortion bans are almost worthless in practice, because the majority of victims don’t report their rapes. Nonetheless, anti-abortion lawmakers once used this exemption to present their abortion bans as compromises, to further abortion stigma by presenting some abortions as acceptable, and the rest as frivolous and bad. If there were any real concerns about gender-based violence, abortion wouldn’t be banned, with or without exceptions—not when being denied abortion care places someone at greater risk of domestic violence, and the top cause of death for pregnant people is homicide, often from abusive partners. Abortion bans are gender-based violence, with added trauma for sexual assault survivors.

So, when you hear Republicans like Lisonbee claim you can simply “control that intake of semen,” or any other outlandish, victim-blaming statements against abortion, know these aren’t just words or isolated incidents. This may as well be the GOP party platform.

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