A Splitting Head-Akin
Go watch the video of Rep. Todd Akin, the GOP candidate for Senate in Missouri, uttering his infamous comments. Go ahead.
The query is pretty straightforward: “What about in the case of rape? Should it [abortion] be legal or not?” This is not a “gotcha” question or some sort of poorly worded trap. Pro-lifers can feel confidence that we’ve seen polling numbers showing the public incrementally shifting to the pro-life cause, but rape, incest, and the life of the mother are usually three circumstances where the public wants abortion to remain legal. According to Gallup, 20 percent support the “illegal in all circumstances” position.
This isn’t to say no Republican Senate candidate should hold this position; only that they should know they hold an unpopular position and they need to be prepared to defend it in ways that reassure, rather than alienate, the other 80 percent.
Akin’s answer begins, “Well, you know, uh, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, ‘Well, how do you – how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question.’”
So far, so good; Akin begins by suggesting a bit of humility.
“It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare.”
Perhaps Akin was thinking of the statistic of how small a percentage of abortions performed are the result of rape and incest. (Here’s a 2005 study by the Guttmacher Institute indicating that only 1 percent of women who had abortions said the reason was that “they had been victims of rape, and less than half a percent said they became pregnant as a result of incest.”) The problem is he didn’t say that; instead he indicated that rape-related pregnancies are “really rare.”
About 31,000 pregnancies are the result of rape in America every year. That’s a small fraction of the 6 million pregnancies nationwide, but . . . that’s still an ungodly number and a number few would call “really rare.” And whether Akin intended it or not, the term “rare” is going to be interpreted by a lot of voters, particularly women, as dismissing it.
And then Akin really gets himself in trouble: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
I have no idea what Akin meant by the term “legitimate rape,” and I don’t care to try to translate that.
As for the notion that women’s bodies can somehow subconsciously interrupt their fertility during a rape experience . . . well, no.
Dr. Aaron E. Carroll, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, writing at CNN:
The body doesn’t differentiate between “legitimate” rape and “illegitimate” rape — whatever that is. The body doesn’t know whether the rapist is known to a victim. The body doesn’t know if a knife or a gun, or alcohol or drugs (or any combination of them), were used.
Every sexual encounter does not lead to pregnancy, but every sexual encounter leads to the possibility of pregnancy. Period.
Now, researchers are always looking to see if there are other indicators of a woman’s peak fertility, and thus you’ll see light-hearted news stories that men are more attracted to dancing women when they’re most fertile, and so on. So while a woman may be more or less fertile at any given time because of a lot of factors, there’s no research indicating that “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Akin wraps up his awful statement, “But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
Look at that phrasing: “that didn’t work” “Ways to shut that whole thing down” – he sounds like he’s discussing an assembly-line safety mechanism or something. The moment the word “rape” enters the conversation, everyone’s blood runs cold and women are involuntarily forced to momentarily contemplate one of the worst things that could ever happen to them. This is why some people flipped out when CNN anchor Bernard Shaw asked Michael Dukakis, “If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?” in a 1988 presidential debate, and even more voters recoiled from Dukakis when he offered an antiseptic policy answer. (Watch the exchange, even more breathtaking 24 years later; Dukakis doesn’t even flinch, recoil, or blink when Shaw asks that question.) Akin suggests that rape victims don’t really need abortions, because he believes in their bodies’ “ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
This is a candidate who is astronomically ill-informed, and epically unprepared for the difficulty of the general-election campaign ahead.
So in this circumstance, frustrated conservatives can cite the dumb comments of Joe Biden, Juanita Broaddrick’s accusations against Bill Clinton, Whoopi Goldberg’s claim that Roman Polanski’s acts weren’t really “rape-rape,” and a million examples of mainstream media bias and hypocrisy, but it doesn’t change the facts: Republicans have a candidate in Missouri that a lot of voters, particularly women, are going to recoil from once these comments get blasted full-force by a well-funded Claire McCaskill campaign.
Here’s Akin’s exchange with Hannity Monday afternoon transcribed by the folks at RealClearPolitics:
“As a political observer I see it differently here. I think for the next week all you’re going to hear from Democrats is your comments. And, look, I’m a Christian so I believe in forgiveness. And I can just tell by the sound of your voice that you’re very sincere in your apology. But I also — I think there is one political reality that I think has to be faced by you and your campaign and that is that you know, the reality here is that Democrats now have a ton of ammunition and they are now going to try to use these remarks to hurt everybody they can. And if I was put in that position, I would at least be thinking about what is in the best interest of the party. hat is in the best interest of, you know, Mitt Romney in this case. What is in the best interest of the people of Missouri, are they going to be able to hear a campaign about issues or is this going to be the distraction of the campaign. Are you — you’re not even considering that?” Hannity asked.
“Those are all legitimate points, Sean, and you know I’m trained as an engineer and you look at both sides of the equation and you say, ‘You know, what are the pros and the cons?’ On the other side, here you have somebody who is a conservative, unabashed pro-lifer where as Claire McCaskill is the exact opposite. And you got a real contrast and a simple choice for the people of the state of Missouri. And I think that strong voting record and that record that is the exact opposite of hers — the question is, does that overcome, you know, the question of people that are upset over one word spoken in one day in one sentence. And I think that there is an awful of people that believe in mercy and forgiveness and God’s love. I made a single error in one sentence,” Akin said.
“But I think that the people of Missouri are big enough to take a look at the whole package and say, ‘Hey, this Obama is about to break our country and Claire McCaskill is a rubber stamp for him and so we need somebody who is going to take the fight to them. And I believe that we’re going to do that,” Akin added.
This morning, Akin released an ad featuring an apology:
“Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize. As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault. I pray for them,” Akin says. “The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The truth is, rape has many victims.”
Akin continues: “The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.”