Rep. Nunnelee's Misplaced Chivalry: 'Exploited' Women 'Suffer In Silence' From Legalized Abortion

January 24, 2012 6:11 pm ET — Kate Conway

The 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade this weekend resulted in an expected flood of conservative lawmakers on the House floor on Monday decrying the landmark legislation. One, Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-MS), used his time to explain that one of the reasons legal access to safe abortions is wrong is because America's women are "suffer[ing] in silence" as "victims of a multi-billion dollar industry that profits on their grief."

NUNNELEE: Our nation's founders expressed in our Declaration of Independence that all individuals are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are the right to life. Yet since January the 22, 1973, over 50 million Americans have been denied that very basic right to life. Their unborn voices call from silent graves, asking America to change our ways.

There's another group who suffers in silence. Our mothers, our wives, our daughters, and our sisters. Those who have been exploited as victims of a multi-billion dollar industry that profits on their grief. On this, the 39th anniversary of that decision, we rededicate our efforts to stand for life. ... The Supreme Court was wrong in 1857, and it was wrong in 1973. And we will answer to a higher law, a law higher than we debate in this hallowed chamber, a law higher than is discussed across the street in the Supreme Court.

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Among a host of pious speeches oversimplifying reproductive health issues, Nunnelee's statement was perhaps the most outdated, the most condescending, and the most divorced from the realities facing women who seek abortions. Not only is he advocating that we strip mothers, wives, daughters and sisters of the legal right to exert control over their own bodies, but casting women as exploited victims unwilling or unable to speak for themselves is a verbal nod to a grotesquely paternalistic perspective. Nunnelee's language casts women as inherently susceptible to victimization, a group whose members must be protected because they cannot comprehend the dangers facing them and cannot make informed decisions regarding their own wellbeing — capacities Nunnelee evidently believes he possesses.

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