Former Breitbart editor-at-large Ben Shapiro laughed about rape, cancer, disability and the scarcity of abortion access during a speaking event at the University of Redlands in California in March. Shapiro, in a show of apparent pride for his remarks, posted a portion of the video to his Facebook on Wednesday.
In the segment, an audience member asks Shapiro—who is best known for his ultra-conservative views and his falling out with Breitbart—about the intersection of rape and abortion access. “What would you advise to a young woman,” she asks, “who’s not married who gets raped but does not have access to an abortion?”
Shapiro promptly responds by making fun of the question and ignoring the notion that a woman might not have abortion access. “First of all,” he begins, “I do appreciate that you created the saddest possible scenario for a living human being. Is she also disabled?” The audience, mostly made up of students, can be heard laughing as he continues. “So it’s really the whole hog,” he jokes. “She has breast cancer as well, as long as we’re creating imaginary victims.”
Shapiro goes on to explain that abortion care for rape victims doesn’t warrant discussion because they make up a small percentage of women who seek abortion care, just like the number of women with disabilities or cancer. At one point, he compares the audience-posed question about a woman who is raped to a question about “a woman with a severe disability,” attempting to argue that abortion rights advocates make petty arguments using rare hypothetical circumstances in order to garner support for reproductive healthcare.
The problem is that the hypothetical woman described in that scenario is all too real. By dismissing circumstances where it’s difficult to argue against abortion access, Shapiro blatantly erases real circumstances in some women’s lives, even calling them “imaginary victims” unworthy of consideration in the abortion debate. Furthermore, his rapid association between rape, cancer and disability—and the levity with which he imagines them—is both offensive and nonsensical.
Shapiro is a shining example of the normalization of the alt-right and its consequences. Despite being known for overt homophobia and transphobia, he has been paid up to $20,000 to speak on college campuses. Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin declared herself one of his biggest fans.
Senior Jacob Khuri, who serves as the head of Convocations and Lectures, told his school’s newspaper he expected students to feel offended by Shapiro’s remarks. “I think his voice is going to be uncomfortable and very offensive,” he said. “But I also think it is going to be really important for an educational learning experience in college.” Contrary to what Khuri anticipated, many students laughed as the speaker made his crude, misogynistic comments about rape and abortion.
Nonetheless, Shapiro should be called out for his jarringly hateful and dismissive rhetoric. The complex lives of women are no laughing matter, and neither is their suffering.