Not just one “crazy” politician

20 Aug

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s careless, ignorant and by-the-way-flat-out incorrect statement about “legitimate rape” has had me stewing all day. Here, if you missed it, was what he said about abortion in instances of rape:

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin said, referring to conception following a rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child” (,7405823,5911283.story).

It’s not just the comment, and it’s not even just the lame mea culpa, well-addressed in this Washington Post opinion by Rachel Manteuffel:

… it is possible to tell when a man has legitimately misspoken — as opposed to accidentally uttered something inane that he really, truly believes. Rep. Akin does not pass this test. The person who has legitimately misspoken invariably secretes a substance — it’s called shame — that makes it clear he has truly and genuinely and accidentally misspoken. There is no hint of this substance in Rep. Akin’s remarks today, so we must regrettably conclude that he is pretending to have misspoken to avoid the consequences of his actions (

What’s really getting me is that this isn’t a one-off. It’s not just the crazy talk of one nut job. It’s an admittedly wacko version of a very familiar tune, sung every day by many other, seemingly more reasonable and legitimate voices. As NY Timeseditor Andrew Rosenthal opines:

It’s tempting to dismiss Mr. Akin’s imbecilic comments. But he is hardly the first Republican to peddle the pernicious nonsense that women can “shut down” a pregnancy in cases of “legitimate” rape. And if you bracket his biological mysticism, Mr. Akin is not that far outside the mainstream of the Republican Party…

Lawmakers who oppose rape and incest exceptions say we shouldn’t “punish” innocent fetuses for their fathers’ crimes, thus prioritizing the rights of unborn children over the rights of their equally innocent mothers. Or they feign piety and point to a grand plan.

In 2011, for example, the Idaho legislature passed a law eliminating rape or incest exceptions because, as state Rep. Brent Crane put it, the “hand of the Almighty” was at work.

And earlier this year, during the G.O.P. presidential primaries, Rick Santorum said that if his daughter were raped and became pregnant, he would counsel her to accept the child as a gift from God. (At least Mr. Santorum was big enough to acknowledge that “this is not an easy choice, I understand that.”)

Mr. Akin merely took the grand plan logic a step farther, by suggesting that women play an active role in deciding whether or not to become pregnant (

Once again, we’re looking at a case of the canary in the coal mine. The issue isn’t just Akin; it’s a whole system in which women’s recovery from victimization (not that only women get raped; but only women can get pregnant from rape) is overwhelmingly in the hands of men for whom this issue is more theoretical and partisan than human.

So I encourage you: when someone brings up Representative Akin’s “imbecilic comments,” help connect the dots so we’re not all distracted with the sideshow while women’s reproductive and victim’s rights lost more ground.

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