It always amuses me when conservatives, who rail relentlessly against “political correctness” when it comes from the left, turn against one of their own like Rep. Todd Akin for saying what he really means.
Akin, a Missouri Republican and Senate candidate, slid from hero to zero with much of the Grand Old Party’s top brass after he was asked about his opposition to legalized abortion, even in cases of rape, and said this: “First of all, from what I understand from doctors (about pregnancy from rape), that’s really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV talk show host Charles Jaco in St. Louis. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
No, it doesn’t, according to overwhelming scientific evidence. As Dr. Barbara Levy, vice president for health policy at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told Reuters, the trauma of rape might impair a woman’s fertility months or years later, but “you’re not going to interrupt something (like the release of an egg) that’s already started.”
And Akin’s language could hardly have been less elegant. Instead of “legitimate” rape, he later clarified that he meant to say “forcible.” But that wasn’t much of an improvement. Akin’s semantic hair-splitting only seemed to underscore the insidious notion that a woman can’t get pregnant from rape -- or even worse: if you are pregnant, you must not have been raped.
“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks,” said Akin in his initial statement of apology, “it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.” I think he meant “sympathy,” not empathy, which is the ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes. His concern for the unborn is admirable, but it is also insulting and downright dangerous when it devalues the right of women to make crucial choices about their own bodies.
As a result, he added weight to long-standing Democratic charges of a “Republican war against women.” His concern for the unborn was expressed as a stunning indifference to women who endured rape and now, according to him, should be legally required to bring the rapist’s baby to term.
No wonder leading Republicans want him out -- and a lot of Democrats want him to stay. As the presidential race heats up and both parties are reaching out to moderate swing voters, Akin offers Democrats, including his opponent Sen. Claire McCaskill, a vivid reminder of right-wing threats against freedom that they have been warning about for years.
Words matter. “Forcible rape,” for example, is a term that conservatives used in their push to narrow the exception that allows Medicaid funds to be used to pay for abortions for women who are raped.
The “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which passed the GOP-controlled House, would have permitted the use of funds only to end pregnancies that resulted from “forcible rape.” That F-word is a powerful modifier here and following public outcry, the language was removed from the bill. Without explicitly saying so, critics point out, the wording would exclude from funding statutory rape of under-aged girls, nonconsensual sex that resulted from a date-rape drug and sex that resulted from verbal threats but without visible injuries.
The “Sanctity of Life Act,” or personhood bill, which affirms that from the moment of fertilization, “every human being shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood,” raises other disturbing questions, opponents pointed out. Could it outlaw in vitro fertilization, since the procedure typically involves the destruction of embryos? Could the bill even enable a rapist to sue his victim if she decided to abort their baby? Stranger things have happened and the law, like most radical laws, did not offer clear answers.
Yet, Akin enthusiastically co-sponsored both bills along with other lawmakers who included Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Yes, the same Paul Ryan who is now GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate.
At a time when both parties traditionally show off how mainstream they are, Akin spotlights how far off the right-wing edge the Grand Old Party has drifted.