Politics & Policy

Aftereffects of Akin

Representative Todd Akin (R., Mo.)
Let’s not double down on violence and pain.

Todd Akin’s inconsiderate and indefensible comments on “legitimate rape,” pregnancy, and abortion raise a whole host of questions: Should abortion be allowed in instances of rape? How can we talk about the issue of abortion in a more humane and compassionate way? In a political context, what questions are relevant to helping the lives of women and children and men?


With astonishing regularity, media voices that won’t spend more than a minute examining Barack Obama’s support for keeping sex-selection abortion legal, or his opposition to a law guaranteeing equal treatment for children born alive after failed abortions, chime in feverishly when a Republican lawmaker speaks inaccurately about abortion and rape. Representative Todd Akin’s remarks prompted a CNN headline that abortion is now at the “center” of the 2012 campaign. If CNN means a full debate on the issue, so be it, despite this unfortunate entry point. More likely, there will be little real debate.

Rape is a grievous crime, always and everywhere, and the burdens imposed on women so assaulted dissuade many even from reporting the crime. Pregnancy does result from rape. Some women (more than we recognize) are able, through acts of unfathomable grace, to bear children conceived in so terrible a way. These women are heroic. Their children — read anything on the subject by remarkable people such as Ethel Waters and Rebecca Kiessling — are heroic as well, speaking to a world where political advantage, not profound compassion, is cherished first.

If some media figures use this occasion only to skewer one man, another chance will have been lost to move the abortion debate — all of it — to higher ground.

— Chuck Donovan is president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.


When someone asks about abortion exceptions for rape and incest, we must also consider the feelings of those who were conceived through sexual assault.

Well-meaning statements can hurt. As one UC Berkeley grad student said to her pro-choice peers, “I have a right to be here.” They responded, “We didn’t mean you!” She asked, “Who did you think you meant?”

My mother told this story to a co-worker who agreed and said, “People never think they are talking to an exception — like me.”

We don’t discriminate based on parentage — that’s not equality. You are valuable no matter who your parents are, no matter the circumstances of your conception.

All people are equal. All choices are not.

People used to value a woman based on who her father or husband was. It is similarly medieval to value a child by the actions of her father. That way of thinking is patriarchal and antifeminist, and it should have passed away with the Dark Ages.

Abortion after rape is misdirected anger. It doesn’t punish the perpetrator of the crime or prevent further assaults against other women.

Feminists for Life’s priority is keeping women safe. Incarcerated sexual offenders should not be allowed pornography, barbells, and early release. We need harsh sentences for sexual assault, without possibility of parole.

We need comprehensive support for rape victims who become pregnant. A convicted rapist should never have paternal rights or be able to demand visitation from “his” children while in prison. But if he has the means, he should contribute child support. If a woman is poor and cannot prove the paternity, she could have problems collecting welfare. Small employers could fire her. We need to listen to those who have had children conceived through sexual assault and work for short- and long-term solutions that benefit both children and mothers.

Feminists for Life is a proud supporter of the Violence Against Women Act. In fact, we were the only pro-life group active in the National Task Force on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.

After a lecture at a Midwestern university, a student pulled me aside. She told me that she had been raped by her third cousin when she was 13 years old and had become pregnant. Her parents had helped her have the privacy she wanted during her pregnancy, and then she placed her son with two loving parents.

I asked her why she had made the decision to have the child — when she was only a girl who had lived through what was arguably the worst of circumstances. She said she would never pass to her own unborn child the violence that had been inflicted on her. Now that is the strength of a woman.

— Serrin Foster is executive director of Feminists for Life, which has run an ad on this topic.


I have no opinion on whether Congressman Todd Akin should remain a candidate for senator in Missouri. He said something very wrong, and something very right. What he said about “legitimate rape” and the chances of a rape victim becoming pregnant was wrong and offensive, and he has apologized. He evidently spoke out of ignorance, and he has learned better. What he said about the injustice of abortion even in the case of rape, however, was absolutely right, and this spoke well of his moral sense. It is a hard saying, but it must be said: The abortion of a child conceived because of a rape is as wrong as any other abortion. Women and their babies, in every kind of crisis pregnancy, need our love, compassion, and support. But abortion is never what anyone needs to heal a wound; it only opens a new one.

It is by now a familiar question from liberal journalists when interviewing pro-life candidates: “You’re against all abortions — what about in cases of rape and incest?” Pro-lifers need to learn how to answer this question, because they can always expect it. The question tugs at heartstrings and aims at exposing a weakness. The appeal to compassion for rape and incest victims must be answered with real compassion for both parties in any pregnancy — mother and child. As for the politics of it, a pro-lifer can always say, “I am for any legislation that reduces the number of abortions and legally restricts a grave injustice. If that means a bill that eliminates most abortions that are legal now but makes an exception for rape and incest, I’m for it. But that doesn’t mean I’m for the exception. Every abortion is a tragic wrong, and we must work to restore respect for the sanctity of every life, from conception to natural death, no matter what the circumstances.”

— Matthew J. Franck is director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.


Abortion. It’s one of those words that grip us when we hear it — sometimes with anger, sometimes with fear, and often with pain. During public discourse or political debate, it is easy to lose sight of the face of the man, woman, family member, or friend who has experienced abortion.

When I speak or write about the grief and loss due to abortion, I remind myself that at least half of all Americans have been personally affected by abortion — either through their own abortion or by the abortion of someone close to them. I consider how my word choices, tone of voice, and body language may be understood by men and women who feel isolated and alone in their pain and grief. Any communication about abortion and other reproductive outcomes may elicit painful memories and emotions, so I am careful to demonstrate compassion and support.

I believe that we can all contribute to creating a safe place for men, women, family members, and friends to share their experiences — to be accepted and heard — and to begin healing.

— Michaelene Fredenburg is the author of the book Changed: Making Sense of Your Own or a Loved One’s Abortion Experience and the founder of the Abortion Changes You outreach.


Several years ago during a morning drive, I was listening to a rather animated discussion about abortion on — of all things — a local classic-rock radio station. The morning DJs were mocking Christian conservatives in the way Rolling Stone liberals do, by presuming that all intelligent people agree, the issues are settled, and the backward and bigoted carry on only through ignorance and fear.

Then a call came in that silenced them — at least for a moment.

“Hi, I’ve been listening to y’all discuss abortion,” said a quiet female voice on the other end of the line, “and I’ve got my own story to tell.”

“My mother was attacked and raped, but she decided my father’s assault shouldn’t mean that I should die. So she carried me, gave birth to me, and raised me. I’m glad she didn’t kill me for my father’s crime.”

That is how we should talk about abortion in these most painful of circumstances — as a matter of innocence. Under what circumstances can we take a wholly innocent human life? Does the rapist’s dreadful crime justify dismembering a child?

But we can’t talk about legalities alone. It is in these most difficult of circumstances that the church must step up to support and sustain the mother through the most terrifying and trying time of her life. Along with a sacred duty to defend innocent life comes a sacred duty to support and care for mother and child.

— David French is a senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice.


This is a terribly difficult issue. Rape is one of humanity’s most horrific crimes, and thus it’s easy to let emotions cloud any discussions involving this most horrendous of acts. When we look at the morality of abortion in cases of sexual assault, for the dignity of both the victim and the unborn child, we must maintain a laser focus on the question, Is the newly conceived life human? There can be no beneficial discussions of this issue without that question at the center. 

I would add that it is critical to encourage all women in crisis pregnancies (whether or not they are rape victims) to consider this most fundamental of questions, because too often they are pushed into abortions before they have a chance to examine the situation carefully. Later, their suffering is compounded when they understand more about what was actually happening inside their womb. Those who purport to support choice might find common ground with pro-lifers here.

— Jennifer Fulwiler writes the Conversion Diary blog.


Being “pro-life” means that you believe a unique, whole, living human person is created at the moment of fertilization. That’s why abortion, regardless of the tragic circumstances of conception, is always wrong; it is the deliberate killing of an innocent pre-born human being.

The abortion industry agrees that almost all abortions are performed because of spousal or partner pressure and a perceived or real lack of resources to parent. Abortions performed because of rape or incest are the extreme minority: 1 percent.

Pro-lifers believe that all human life should be treated with dignity and respect, no matter what the parentage may be. If my father goes out today and commits an act of mass murder, does that justify someone’s killing me? The child conceived during a rape may remind the mother of the horrific act of violence she endured, but does that justify the killing of the child? 

Pope John Paul II wrote: “Social justice cannot be attained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create. Violence and war can never resolve the problems of men.” It is insensitive to say to a woman who has been raped that the horrific violence of rape can be eased or erased by simply aborting the child conceived during the rape. One act of violence cannot erase another.

Because of the 15-second media culture we live in, pro-life politicians today feel they must say abortion should be legal in cases of rape and incest. Talking about the horrific violence of rape and the personhood of all human beings in a way that is compassionate and sensitive is not possible in a 15-second sound bite. The pro-life movement must do more to educate Americans about the personhood of all human beings. Only then will pro-life politics follow.

— Kristan Hawkins is executive director of Students for Life of America.


During elections, we tend to have media debates about topics that are not even on the political table. We particularly — and most painfully — tend to debate the topic of abortion. If only we were at the point in history where we were debating whether or not to delimit the rare, terrible circumstances when abortion should be legal. Obviously, even 40 years after Roe v. Wade, we’re not there yet. Questions asked about rape on the campaign trail in reference to abortion remind me of when, a presidential-primary cycle ago, a reporter asked Mitt Romney if he would support a Human Life Amendment. He seemed amazed such a question would be asked, for we would be living in a changed country if the Supreme Court overruled Roe and Congress passed, and the states ratified, such an amendment; we’re not there yet, so let’s talk about what we can do to make abortions seem unthinkable in the lives of women who find themselves pregnant. Only the hardened ideologue doesn’t want to help mothers be mothers. We ought to focus on this in our politics and in our civic communities. This is a legitimate conversation, and a compassionate one.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.


Congressman Todd Akin’s indefensible comments this past weekend have caused many pro-lifers to reconsider whether there should be an exception in the case of rape. It is the nature of politics to construct situations that place one’s ideological opponents in a difficult position. Pro-lifers have had success doing this with both the partial-birth abortion ban in the 1990s and the ongoing debate over the pain-capable abortion-prevention act. However, when abortion was legally restricted, supporters of legal abortion would often use cases such as rape, incest, the life of the mother, and severe fetal deformity to get people to support expanded access to abortion.

Obviously, the issue of rape puts pro-lifers in a difficult position. Pro-lifers like to talk about personal responsibility — this resonates well with a lot of people. However, in the case of rape, the woman bears no responsibility for the fact that she is now pregnant. Philosophically, pro-lifers still have a lot to say on the matter. If all innocent human life is precious and deserves legal protection, then that should include all unborn children. Furthermore, since no one has any control over the circumstances surrounding his conception, it is unfair for the child to suffer for the sins of his father. Furthermore, an abortion does not undo the rape. It ends the life of an innocent unborn child.

Still, most Americans do not think in purely philosophical terms. Even many who are sympathetic to the pro-life cause simply think it is fair to allow for abortion in the case of rape. The best way for pro-lifers to proceed is to put a human face on the issue. I serve as the faculty adviser to the newly formed campus pro-life group at University of Michigan–Dearborn. For our first event in April, we organized a lecture entitled “Did I Deserve the Death Penalty?” by lawyer Rebecca Kiessling, whose conception was the product of rape. Some asked why we were starting with such a controversial topic. Part of the reason was that I thought the controversy would attract a good crowd. More important, I thought that Kiessling’s presence, her powerful testimony about her mother, and her own life story would get people to reconsider the issue in a way that no philosophical argument ever could.

— Michael New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.

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