The XX Factor

The Brave Confession of a Woman Who Got Pregnant From Rape

An Afghan baby in a crib

Photograph by Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Today on xoJane, a woman named Shauna Prewitt confesses to something few women have before: She became pregnant after a rape and kept the baby. In her open letter to Rep. Todd Akin, Prewitt very movingly describes the tortured, conflicting thoughts she had when she found out she was pregnant: She was miserable and ashamed about the rape and then guilty and ashamed about any feelings of joy she had about the pregnancy. In Akin’s version, the female body has a mystical way of somehow intuiting the rape and shutting “the whole thing down,” as he put it, in other words, behaving in a biological way which happens to perfectly align with Akin’s political views. But in the real world, biology is blind to our feelings or politics and goes about its business, and the feelings just have to muddle along and catch up.

One smart decision Prewitt makes in her letter is not to describe the details of the rape. This way, she is not subject to Akin and company’s analysis of whether the events in question constitute “legitimate rape” or not—another of his choice phrases. She merely describes the complicated and unpredictable events that followed: Prewitt kept the baby who is now a second-grader. At first she had tried to deaden herself to the rape but then it became the defining fact of her life in many ways. She became a lawyer dedicated to helping victims of rape who decide to keep their babies. (In many states, she discovered, a rapist has the same visitation rights as any father, for example.)

One worry I had upon reading Prewitt’s letter is that Akin and other conservatives will seize it as fodder for the pro-life position. See, what matters is the precious life that resulted from this! But again, that is not at all Prewitt’s point. What she’s saying is, things are complicated. There is no predictable magic. One can feel rage and shame and joy about the same fact. That’s what it means to really understand “life.”