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Last week, a person I admire wrote, “I hate people.” Without missing a beat, I emailed back, “I love that you wrote that.” And that gave me pause. Earlier in the week, I had read a chapter from Maythee Rojas’ Women of Color and Feminism. Rojas wrote about love’s being the fuel of feminist activism, a force for social change. It is through love — of oneself and others — that we build the necessary bridges between the great global diversity of women and their issues, uniting us in action and visionary change. In her book, Rojas made a clarion call for love, but I was feeling hate.
So I looked at the email exchange, I thought about Rojas’ message, I contemplated guilt and put it aside, and I opted instead to consider my response to the thing that initiated the original email. That thing is this:
On Wednesday, lifesitenews.com, an anti-abortion website, published a piece by blogger Elise Hilton entitled, “Why I rejected Plan B after my disabled daughter was raped.” Hilton’s piece reported the kidnapping and prolonged sexual assault of her daughter and Hilton’s subsequent decision not to administer the Plan B emergency contraceptive provided by the women’s shelter clinic to which her daughter was taken after 48 hours of captivity and violation.
Hilton used her byline at LifeSiteNews and she profiles herself on her personal blog — Kissing the Leper: Acknowledging the perfect joy of suffering in Christ, but having a little fun along the way — where she also posted the piece.
With her column’s publication, Hilton raised significant concerns about sexual assault victims’ rights, the rights of people with disabilities, and reproductive justice. Before reviewing these issues, it’s important to acknowledge that, after reading several of Hilton’s blog posts, I have assumed her daughter is an adult or approaching adulthood, as she was taken to a women’s shelter rather than a children’s hospital. Hilton herself reports that her daughter has bi-polar disorder and a cognitive disability, which her blog content suggests might be Down Syndrome. All of which contribute to my concerns:
1. In revealing her own identity attached to the online post, Hilton essentially revealed to the world the identity of her daughter, the victim, and the devastating nature of the crimes committed against her. Hilton also made this information available to the perpetrator of these crimes, who Hilton reported had not been apprehended. While she might serve as her daughter’s legal decision-maker, had she been predominantly concerned about her daughter’s wellbeing, her right to the privacy normally afforded victims of sexual assault, Hilton could have published her piece anonymously — or not at all. Instead, she blasted her daughter’s assault around the virtual globe with adequate identifying information to lead back to her daughter. Thus, Hilton blatantly violated the victim’s confidentiality.
2. In the context of her column, Hilton rendered the crimes against her daughter a secondary issue to her own struggle between her anti-abortion stance and the option of using Plan B to prevent any possible pregnancy as a result of her daughter’s repeated rapes. Hilton certainly has a right to her opinions and to their publication, but in doing so, she invites criticism. And, as a writer, an editor and a book critic, I offer this: Hilton’s column exemplifies a dedication to anti-abortion ideology that precludes compassion for real humans in the real throes of reproductive crisis. She sacrificed her daughter’s confidentiality and, potentially, her daughter’s wellbeing for the purpose of anti-abortion propaganda.
3. Hilton represented her decision to withhold Plan B from her daughter as a spiritual triumph. But Hilton’s triumph could be her daughter’s undoing. In rejecting Plan B, she denied her daughter treatment to prevent a possible pregnancy; her daughter with bi-polar disorder, a disorder exacerbated by pregnancy, a disorder many treatments for which are contraindicated for pregnant women. In rejecting Plan B, Hilton forced on her daughter the prospect of motherhood, motherhood for a woman supposedly disabled enough that her mother must make her most crucial decisions for her. Hilton’s column is a forthright and specific declaration of her violation of her daughter’s reproductive rights. Whatever informed decision her daughter might have made for herself, without the imposition of Hilton’s ideology, we will never know.
Ultimately, in publishing her column, Hilton has demonstrated terrible failures. Hilton has failed to honor a victim of sexual assault with the comforts of confidentiality. Hilton has failed to honor her daughter, a person with disabilities, with the grace of respect due her individuality. Hilton has failed to honor a woman whose reproductive justice was first denied for 48 hours by a rapist, and then again by her mother. Hilton’s disregard for her daughter’s unique humanity, her daughter’s individual rights, reveals Hilton’s disdain for her “disabled daughter,” no matter how much she loves her.
So, is it hate that I feel for Hilton? Upon reflection, I find it is not. Rather, it is rage, rage at a person who would so brutally violate a vulnerable woman — her daughter — for the sake of a cause. I am not a praying person, but I offer up this prayer for Hilton’s daughter: I pray you are not pregnant. Next, I’ll try very hard to love your mother.
Kit-Bacon Gressitt's commentary and political fiction can be read on her blog Excuse Me, I'm Writing and is republished by SDGLN, The Ocean Beach Rag and The Progressive Post. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize while working for the North County Times. She is also host of Fallbrook's monthly Writers Read open mic and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.