U.S. Representative Todd Akin (R-Missouri), a candidate running against Claire McCaskill in the Missouri Senate race, is at the center of a media firestorm. On the August 19th edition of The Jaco Report on Fox 2, Akin made a shocking statement about rape and pregnancy. At the 4:07 mark of the above video, he had this to say.
"People always want to try and make [pregnancy from rape] as one of those things--well, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question? It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. 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 on the rapist and not attacking the child."Akin later backpedaled on his statement, claiming that he made a "mistake" in an August 20th statement on his website.
“This weekend I made a mistake. I used the wrong words in the wrong way. What I said was ill-conceived and it was wrong and for that I apologize. I’m a dad of two daughters and I want tough justice for sexual predators and I’ve always had a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault."Akin also apologized in an August 21st video, admitting that rape can lead to pregnancy. He discussed the controversy on the August 20th edition of The Mike Huckabee Show, during which Huckabee said, "Yet even from those horrible, horrible tragedies of rape, which are inexcusable and indefensible, life has come and sometimes, you know, those people are able to do extraordinary things.” Despite widespread criticism and calls for him to exit the race, Akin refuses to bow out of the Missouri Senate race.
Unfortunately, Akin is not the first political figure to make grossly inaccurate statements about rape and pregnancy. Figures such as Fay Boozman, Henry Aldridge, and Stephen Freind have made ridiculous claims that rape rarely if ever results in pregnancy, according to the New York Times. Research, however, says otherwise. Rape of adult women results in an average of 32,101 pregnancies each year. One study estimated that the national rate of pregnancy resulting from rape is 5% among victims ages 12-45. (1) Another study found that the per-incident rate of pregnancy resulting from rate was 6.42%, compared to 3.1% for consensual sex. (2) A 2005 study of women who sought protective orders revealed that 20% of respondents reported at least one rape-related pregnancy. (3) To boot, forcible impregnation of women during armed conflict is a well-documented strategy used by aggressors to demoralize conquered communities (see here, here, and here). Simply put, Akin and his ilk are wrong about rape-related pregnancy.
Akin's comments have drawn condemnation in the U.S. and abroad. Prominent leaders from the U.S. political scene have voiced their outrage. According to the Wall Street Journal, President Obama condemned the comments as "offensive," insisting that "rape is rape." The Washington Post reports that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney called Akin's comments "offensive and wrong," urging his fellow Republican to drop out of the Senate race. National Republican Senatorial Committee chair Sen. John Cornyn issued a statement urging Akin to carefully consider what is best for him, his family, the Republican Party, and the values that he cares about and has fought for throughout his career in public service.” Tea Party Express chair Amy Kremer called the comments "inappropriate" and urged Akin to remove himself from the race, reports ABC News. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Massachusetts) lambasted Akin's remarks as "outrageous, inappropriate and wrong." Finally, conservative PAC American Crossroads told ABC News that they will not spend money on Akin's Missouri campaign.
Even some voices from the anti-abortion movement have expressed disapproval of Akin's statement. In a press release posted at Christian Newswire, Christian Defense Coalition director Patrick Mahoney referred to Akin's use of the term "legitimate rape" as "offensive, repugnant and troubling." Mahoney pressed Akin to accept responsibility for his statements by exiting the Missouri Senate race. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
Progressive commentators have much to say about Akin's disgusting comments, speculating that his anti-abortion stance and Presbyterian theological background contributed to his views on rape. Others have discussed the controversy against the backdrop of right-wing attitudes about sex and reproduction. For instance, the Daily Beast profiled Dr. John Willke, the president of the anti-abortion Life Issues Institute whose 1999 essay claimed that rape-related pregnancy is rare (more on Willke here). At Love, Joy, Feminism, Libby Anne looked at Akin's remarks through the lens of conservative sexual ethics, arguing that such ethics ignore issues of consent.
In a commentary at the Washington Post, Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite of the Center for American Progress called Akin's apology "cheap grace," raising doubts about his sincerity. "Sorry doesn’t get it done when what you really mean is ‘please make this controversy go away," she wrote.
Feminist activist and Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler penned a hard-hitting open letter to Akin (trigger warning). Ensler wrote that Akin's comments left her "reeling" and claimed that they offered "a window into the psyche of the GOP."
"You used the expression "legitimate" rape as if to imply there were such a thing as "illegitimate" rape. Let me try to explain to you what that does to the minds, hearts and souls of the millions of women on this planet who experience rape. It is a form of re-rape. The underlying assumption of your statement is that women and their experiences are not to be trusted. That their understanding of rape must be qualified by some higher, wiser authority. It delegitimizes and undermines and belittles the horror, invasion, desecration they experienced. It makes them feel as alone and powerless as they did at the moment of rape ... Why don't you spend your time ending rape rather than redefining it? Spend your energy going after those perpetrators who so easily destroy women rather than parsing out manipulative language that minimizes their destruction."In a commentary published in the Guardian, Amanda Marcotte called Akin's rape comments a "witch doctor act," framing them in the context of right-wing pseudoscience about abortion and contraception.
"Anti-abortion Christians are well trained in the art of substituting wishful thinking for facts, and then aggressively promoting their made-up nonsense as if it were historical or biological truth. It starts with their rock solid belief that Jesus Christ wanted banning abortion to be a priority, despite never once even mentioning the issue. It shouldn't be surprising that those who make stuff up about their Lord and Savior would easily leap straight to spinning nonsense about the female reproductive system."Blogger Ashley F. Miller sees Akin's comments as a reflection of right-wing Christian theodicy. Miller argues that Christians who believe in a good God cannot accept that their deity would allow unjust suffering (i.e., pregnancy from rape), so they quell their inner dissonance by blaming victims instead of God.
"The problem of evil in the world is nothing new, but it is much easier to ignore if you blame all bad things on bad actions on the part of victims rather than societal problems or true injustice. It would be too cruel for someone to get pregnant from a rape, so she must have not been raped, not really raped, only kind of raped. They aren’t saying these things to justify their positions, they genuinely believe them because not to would be so difficult to all of their other beliefs.What Akin said was disgusting. His apology notwithstanding, Akin's comments were revealing about his attitudes toward women, abortion, and sexual violence. By making grossly inaccurate claims about rape-related pregnancy, Akin revealed his ignorance regarding medical science. By labeling some rapes as "legitimate," he implied that other rapes are "illegitimate" and therefore not worthy of the same consideration. By frowning on abortion in cases of rape, he revealed a strident anti-choice stance that ignores the realities women face.
There can’t be systematic injustice — God wouldn’t allow it, so women and black people and poor people are all simply reaping what they’ve sewn or playing their appropriate role, not being hurt by unnecessary prejudice and cruelty. Women can’t be raped, they are always asking for it. People on welfare must be bad people, that’s why they deserve to be poor."
I say, let the condemnation come fast and hard. We need to remind Akin and his ilk that these attitudes are vile.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Washington Post: ‘Legitimate rape’ remark fuels women’s increasing skepticism about religion
Time: Rape, Abortion and the Dark History of Qualifying Violence Against Women
Alternet: The 8 Worst Things Republicans Have Said About Rape, Sex and Women's Bodies
Infidel753: The Party of Akin
Brilliant at Breakfast: Where's Woman?
Reason Being: Akin and the GOP on Women: Todd Akin Is Not a "Lone Wolf"
Ward Gossip: Mormons Rush in to Help Mitt's Campaign
(1) Holmes, M., Resnick, H.S., Kilpatrick D.G., & Best, C.L. (1996). Rape-related pregnancy: Estimates and descriptive characteristics from a national sample of women. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 175, 320-325.
(2) Gottschall, J. A., & Gottschall, T. A. (2003). Are per-incident rape-pregnancy rates higher than per-incident consensual pregnancy rates? Human Nature, 14, 1-20.
(3) McFarlane, J., & Malecha, A. (2005). Sexual assault among intimates: Frequency, consequences, and treatments. Final report submitted to the National Institute of Justice. Retrieved from www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/211678.pdf