Pence: “‘Choice’ is Now Limited to Victims of Legimiate Rape”*

7 min readOct 20, 2017


La Femme Qui Pleure Two-and-a Half, Oil on Masonite, 48" x 20", 1993, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Helen Bero-Van Wagoner and Richard A. Van Wagoner**

This painting, among my personal favorites, references Picasso’s Weeping Woman from 1937, a “universal image of suffering” having its conceptual origin in the Spanish Civil War:

“For me she’s the weeping woman. For years I’ve painted her in tortured forms, not through sadism, and not with pleasure, either; just obeying a vision that forced itself on me. It was the deep reality, not the superficial one…. Dora, for me, was always a weeping woman…. And it’s important, because women are suffering machines.” Pablo Picasso.

La Femme Qui Pleure Two-and-a Half disperses the contemporary issue of abortion through the prism of Picasso’s theme: women as suffering machines. I don’t know whether my father reached a conclusion on that difficult and complex subject and if so what it looked like. Encouraging thought, dialogue and debate, his art often asked rather than answered questions. This painting, however, indisputably overlays those themes: women’s suffering and abortion.

Beyond pointing out the obvious, I do not attempt to interpret the painting. I hope, however, the painting makes the paramount concession that it is to a large extent an outsider’s observation and commentary. I also hope it touches on a broader theme of which abortion is only one subset, that is men’s overt and historical subjugation of women by force, fear, threats, political power and religion.

The question whether “women are suffering machines,” a notion with which you may violently disagree or a question you may deem unforgivably sexist, is both answered and begged here. Why? Picasso and my father as observers lacked full capacity to understand and, most important, to empathize. Granted, as my therapist ably points out, we connect through shared emotion more than through shared experience. But when it comes to fundamental gender differences, that may also beg the question. From my father’s point of view, it was not from his lack of trying.

Untitled, Oil on Masonite, 19.5" x 14", circa 1971, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust

Even if the leadership in the three political branches of government were inclined to walk in others’ shoes — a laughable notion for the Trump Administration (T & A), a malignant narcissist or (with some irony) ‘Christian’ Fundamentalists — I believe they are incapable. Not quite enough non-male decision-makers. The deservedly mocked image of a condescending Trump and his groupies reinstating “the Mexico City Policy,” aka “the Global Gag Rule,” is flagrant metaphor for the circularity of men doing the answering of such questions for women, except/because that’s precisely what these kind of men do.

My accident of birth was being born to Mormon parents. Some might consider that a generational tragedy. If I were to opine, my sister’s accident of birth was the same, which may have been compounded by having been born into a culture that programs its female adherents never to gain, or if gained to relinquish, self-determination: men are the ones with the authority and smarts to make their important decisions, and women must trust and have no reason to verify. This may resonate as cult-like, a direction our current regime and its adherents seem pointed. Unfortunately, being born xx in our family made the likelihood of autonomous existence remote. The patriarchal order (of things) was strongly reinforced. I was postured to decide things for females who, if I chose right, were postured to let me. My able wife, and my shrink, are helping me eradicate this deep entrenchment.

My sister can decide for herself, or not. She married an authoritarian and lived under his dominion until she was able to escape and begin deprogramming. She has taken measures to withdraw her forced allegiances that resulted in what appears to me a largely painful existence. Withdrawing allegiance, mind you, is a little different from reinventing and internalizing the formative years.

The Caffetz Embarrassment (CE 1/435) and Planned Parenthood

The most offensive, cavalier and condescending comments on women’s issues come from men. Maybe that’s because more men are in positions to make policy and decisions for women. Simple math. Go figure.

Sitting on his center perch at the House Oversight Committee, CE 1/435 tried to trick Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, and the public at large, into believing Planned Parenthood’s principal service was abortions by some significant factor more than life-saving procedures, and the spread was widening each year. He flashed the following:

“In pink, that’s the reduction in the breast exams, and the red is the increase in the abortions. That’s what’s going on in your organization.” CE 1/435.

CE 1/435’s sleight-of-hand was easily discovered, but how did he try to trick us?

  1. CE 1/435 presented as a Planned Parenthood chart this diagram that was created by an anti-abortion group. That copyright belongs to Americans United for Life, posted on its website June 2015.
  2. The crossed arrows on this dual-axis chart create a false correlation, plotting Planned Parenthood’s life-saving procedures in millions but abortions in the hundreds of thousands. Using different numeric scales, the chart’s proportions are completely disparate and establish no correlation whatsoever. The number of abortions remained relatively unchanged over that period of time.

Truly Legitimate Rape

Below are a few examples that arose in the middle of the abortion debate as god’s way of getting around the problem of pregnancies resulting from “truly legitimate rape.” Parenthetically, medical evidence shows that north of 32,000 pregnancies result from rape each year and rape victims, studies suggest, are more likely to become pregnant than women who have consensual sex:

• “If a woman has [the right to an abortion], why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t [in most cases] result in anyone’s death.” Lawrence Lockman, R-ME, Maine House of Representatives, 2012.

• “The facts show that people who are raped — who are truly raped — the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant. . . . Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever. . . . To get pregnant, it takes a little cooperation. And there ain’t much cooperating in rape.” Representative Henry Aldridge, R-NC, 1995.

• “It is almost but not quite impossible to become pregnant because of rape. The odds are one in millions and millions. . . .[T]here is a physical reason for that. Rape, obviously, is a traumatic experience. When that traumatic experience is undergone, a woman secretes a certain secretion, which has a tendency to kill sperm.” Representative Stephen Friend, R-PA., 2012.

• “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down.” Former Missouri Representative Todd Akin, R-MO, 2012.

• Akin is “partly right on that. . . . And I’ve delivered lots of babies, and I know about these things. It is true. We tell infertile couples all the time that are having trouble conceiving because of the woman not ovulating. ‘Just relax. Drink a glass of wine. And don’t be so tense and uptight because all that adrenaline can cause you not to ovulate.’. . . [T]he fact that a woman may have already ovulated 12 hours before she is raped, you’re not going to prevent pregnancy there by a woman’s body shutting anything down because the horse has already left the barn, so to speak.” Representative Phil Gingrey, R-GA., 2013.

• “. . . . As horrible as the way that son or daughter and son was created, it still is her child. And whether she has that child or doesn’t, it will always be her child. And she will always know that. . . . I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you. . . .We have horrible things happen. I can’t think of anything more horrible. But, nevertheless, we have to make the best out of a bad situation.” Rick Santorum, a former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania who was then campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, 2012.

• “Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Richard Mourdock, R-IN., candidate United States Senate, 2012.

Don’t Kid Yourself: Pence’s Punchline is Coming

Congressmen and former Presidential candidates who consistently refuse to consider the irrefutable existential crisis of climate change are finally coming around to embrace peer-reviewed scientific conclusions. Never mind that the “peers” are members of their club and the conclusions come from doublecompletely blind tests. Victims of legitimate rape can’t become pregnant because as we all now know god made women’s bodies to “shut the whole thing down.” Pence might add that since the time of Adam when god created Eve with her “little protective shield” built in, the occurrence of pregnancy means the sex was consensual. If you disagree, just relax. Drink a glass of wine. Don’t be so uptight.

*My brother the fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to

**My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed nearly 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in are hers.




Exercising my right not to remain silent. Criminal defense and First Amendment attorney.