State Senator Calls Trans Activist's Rape Statement 'Pathetic'

A West Virginia senator called a trans activist's statement about childhood rape—read out during a debate on an abortion bill—"pathetic" in an email.

Ash Orr, 32, said they emailed Mike Azinger on July 31 to share their dismay at comments he made on the West Virginia Senate floor after Democratic Sen. Mike Caputo read Orr's statement recalling how they had feared becoming pregnant after being raped twice by the age of 10.

Hours later, Orr receive a response, reviewed by Newsweek, where Azinger denied knowing about the statement Caputo read out on Orr's behalf, but described it as "pathetic."

"The arrogance of some people: why do you assume I know about your pathetic statement Capito [sic] read on the floor?" Azinger wrote in the email, which was marked as being sent from the senator's iPhone.

Azinger has been contacted for comment, and Newsweek is still looking into the veracity of the statement.

Ash Orr speaks during public hearing
Ash Orr is pictured addressing Republican lawmakers in the West Virginia House of Delegates during a public hearing for the abortion bill on July 27. Ash Orr

"You were born a female and always—always—will be a female," he added. "And you are the one who does not care about the victims of rape: if they get pregnant, you want them to kill their baby, which they'll live with for the rest of their life. I am very sorry for the unspeakable tragedy that took place in your childhood. But God heals; and God is compassionate."

Orr's email to Azinger accused him of siding "with assaulters and rapists, all under the guise of being 'pro-life.'"

Orr added: "Given your statements on the floor, it is evident that you neither care for children or adults who are the victims or rape… I pity those with a uterus who have the misfortune of being in your circle. Do better," they wrote.

"He purposefully misgendered me and dehumanized me as much as possible," Orr told Newsweek of Azinger's response.

"As a survivor, I was already terrified to be sharing intimate details of my childhood rape, but then to be treated so cruelly, it was more than I could take. I would simply question why this behavior of a member of the caucus would be seen as acceptable—and if it is, what is the justification for it?"

Orr said they had been motivated to send the email after being disheartened by comments made by Azinger and his fellow Republican Robert Karnes—who had claimed child rape victims "romanticize" their relationship with their rapists.

"I listened to both Senators make claims ranging from childhood rape victims 'romanticize their relationships with their rapists' to being called a murderer for having an abortion," Orr said.

"I emailed Senator Azinger, as I am originally from his district, and wanted to share my disappointment with his callousness.... I received an email response from Senator Azinger calling my story of childhood rape 'pathetic'."

In the statement read out by Caputo, Orr said: "At the age of 10, I was sitting cross-legged on my bed checking my stomach to see if there was any swelling. I was filling my journal with fears of being pregnant and scared to tell my family what happened to me."

Addressing lawmakers, Orr's statement continued: "I want you to imagine being a ten year old hiding in their bathroom and taking a pregnancy test... acknowledge that this is the hell you are willing to place onto a child. Now, I want you to try rationalizing how it's even remotely acceptable for a child who has just survived sexual assault to carry a child."

On Twitter that day, Orr added: "I am a survivor of childhood rape. I am an abortion patient. I am a Trans Appalachian who will never stop fighting for safe abortion access in these hollers!"

Orr said they were raped as a child by a 17-year-old, but charges were never filed. A person over 14 is guilty of first-degree sexual assault under West Virginia law if they engage in sexual intercourse or sexual intrusion with another person who is younger than 12.

The July 30 debate on the Senate floor was held after West Virginia's House of Delegates passed a sweeping abortion ban that would have made providing the procedure a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison during a special session initiated by Republican Gov. Jim Justice last month following the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

The bill remains in limbo because the lawmakers in the state's Republican-led legislature disagreed on details.

The West Virginia Senate had voted to strip criminal penalties from the bill and scaled back the time period that abortion would be permitted in cases of rape and incest to eight weeks.

The House declined to accept the changes and adjourned without announcing a time to reconvene.

Orr was among the dozens of speakers who addressed Republican lawmakers in the West Virginia House of Delegates during a public hearing for the bill on July 27.

"I have watched you strip away my rights as a trans person with a uterus. You all do not care. You are pro-control, you are not pro-life. You are determined to silence us and I refuse to let it happen," Orr told them.

Orr has since launched a fundraiser to support the Women's Health Center of West Virginia, which has so far raised more than $23,000.

"At first, it was a struggle to navigate these comments and the hatred behind them," Orr said. "But then I remembered that comments were made in an attempt to silence me and that is simply something I refuse to do.

"I created this fundraiser as an act of resistance. While rights for our bodily autonomy and the Queer community are being stripped away I refuse to go down without a fight. This is me fighting back. For the rest of my days, I will never stop fighting for my community, for Queer joy, for bodily autonomy, or for better days my state of West Virginia."