Friday, August 24, 2012

Thoughts on Todd Akin

[Guest Blogger Jen R., co-founder of All Our Lives, shares her thoughts on Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comments.]

So Todd Akin, who thinks that pregnancy resulting from rape is "really rare" because "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down," announced yesterday that he is staying in the Missouri Senate race. I hardly know where to start. I guess a grounding in reality is the first order of business: Yes, of course women become pregnant as the result of rape. No, it's not "really rare" -- although few studies exist, the best available evidence indicates that the conception rate for rape is roughly equal to that for the average act of consensual PIV intercourse. No, there is no "certain secretion" that kills sperm when a woman is raped. That's made up. No, it is not true that women who are "truly" raped can't get pregnant because "the juices don't flow." That's made up. No, even though ongoing stress can make conception and carrying to term more difficult for some women, the stress of being raped does not in itself make conception impossible or highly unlikely.

I think a lot of people don't fully understand what the problem is with Akin's statement. That a public figure is blithely, proudly ignorant about subjects on which he proposes to legislate is appalling. (I feel like I have to say that, because I'm not sure that's something on which we agree as a country. Akin serves on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, after all.) But it's so much more than that.

Women who have been raped automatically fall under suspicion in a way that virtually no other crime victims do. When was the last time you discussed a theft, and someone felt the need to disclaim that the victim might have actually wanted to give the thief money, or might be lying about the whole incident ever happening? That happens in virtually every discussion of rape outside of explicitly feminist and anti-rape spaces, even though evidence points to false accusations of rape being no more common than false accusations of other crimes, at between 2-8%.

So when Todd Akin and the people defending him claim that pregnancy due to "legitimate" rape (Akin later clarified, he means "legitimate" as opposed to those cases where women are lying) is rare or impossible, they are doing two things. First of all, by accepting the double standard on the need for the "legitimate" qualifier, they are tacitly promoting the falsehood that women who say they have been raped are to be trusted less than people who report other crimes.

It gets worse. If a person believes that pregnancy due to rape is extremely rare, but lying about rape is common, what are they likely to believe when a woman says her pregnancy resulted from rape? That she's lying. That she doesn't need help, that she is someone who is trying to hurt others and not someone who has herself been hurt. If you think that what Akin said is OK, could you please try to imagine yourself in the shoes of that woman for just one minute?

By contributing to the suspicion that rape victims already face far too much of, Akin and those who defend his claims about pregnancy due to "legitimate" rape make it more likely that women will not report their rapes or will not be believed if they do. They make it more likely that rapists will get away with it and rape again. They also make it harder for women who have become pregnant as a result of rape to carry to term and raise their children. If a woman knows that she will be suspected of lying about her rape if her pregnancy becomes known, and might even have to share custody or allow visitation by her rapist, how much weight must that add to the abortion end of the scale?

This is rape culture. It hurts women. It hurts children conceived as a result of rape. It's unacceptable.

What's also unacceptable is all the apologism from groups saying we should ignore Akin's "unfortunate" choice of words because he's such a staunch defender of the unborn, and the only reason anyone would get so worked up about what he said is because they're pro-abortion.

Missouri Right to Life apparently had no comment on the substance of Akin's remarks, and would say only that they support him.

Connie Mackey, head of the Family Research Council's PAC, said "I don’t know anything about the science or the legal implications of his statement. I do know politics, and I know gotcha politics when I see it."

And worst of all, the Susan B. Anthony List called Akin an "excellent partner in the fight for the unborn" and claimed that "Abortion supporters like Sen. Claire McCaskill are trying to use this issue as a smokescreen to hide from their radical, pro-abortion records." As though there was no other reason to oppose Akin's ignorant, harmful views.

Public Policy Polling found that only 9% of Missourians found Akin's comments appropriate. (That's somewhat cheering news, anyway.) I strongly doubt that 91% of Missourians are just trying to get Claire McCaskill elected.

Even if your idea of what "pro-life" means revolves solely around electing politicians who will vote for restrictions on abortion, one doesn't have to support McCaskill to demand a better candidate than Akin. Akin can still withdraw in the next five weeks and be replaced. Is there really nobody better available? Are there no pro-life candidates who are knowledgeable and sensitive about women's lives? And if not, if this is truly the best "pro-life" can muster, why would any decent human being want to identify with "pro-life"? About 75% of the time I don't want to apply that label to myself, and these people are the reason. (The other 25%, I want to reclaim it.)

Even if the pro-life establishment can't bring itself to demand better than ignorance and misogyny from its representatives, we can. We can contact Todd Akin's office and explain to him how his comments hurt women. We can contact Missouri Right to Life and the Family Research Council and the Susan B. Anthony List and tell them that the cause of protecting human life before birth is not helped by spreading hurtful lies about women. We can tell them that hurting women is anti-life. We can tell them that we won't stand for being represented by people like Todd Akin, and they shouldn't either.


Anonymous said...

Good, now ban Timmerie from posting here and you might have a halfway-respectable blog.

Kara said...

"About 75% of the time I don't want to apply that label to myself, and these people are the reason. (The other 25%, I want to reclaim it.)"


Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Jen. Thank you for being a rational voice. Politicians like Todd Akin do too much to support the rape culture in America.
I think what breaks my heart the most is that 9% of people in Missouri still thought his remarks were acceptable.

Anonymous said...

Todd Akin's statements were ignorant and reprehensible, and suggest that he is not ready to be a politician on the national scale. He should drop out, and continuing to stay in the race only hurts those he claims to support.

That said, none of this makes him a misogynist, as this hysterical blogger claims, or a bad person. It doesn't mean that his values are wrong. It doesn't mean that he hasn't done good work in the past. It DOES mean that he needs to withdraw from the political arena ASAP for the good of everyone involved. All of the prominent pro-life Republicans who are calling for his removal right now basically agree with me on this point, but I understand that it would be inconvenient to quote people like Ann Coulter or David Limbaugh.

However, I've been following this blog for about a year and a half and I've noticed an increasing number of posts conceding pro-choice arguments, including the incredibly offensive post yesterday that claimed that "bodily integrity" grants the unborn more rights than born children, an argument which taken to its logical conclusion would excuse abortion up to the day of birth.

I don't know whether the owner of this blog is legitimately changing her mind or if she's allowing herself to be manipulated by "guest bloggers", but one does have to question her commitment to the cause when the majority of the posts on this blog are conceding that pro-choicers are right or proudly proclaiming that they hate the majority of pro-lifers, even if they agree with them on the merits.

There are few non-stereotypical pro-lifers left, and I think that this blog has been doing good work up until recently. But when most of the content on this blog can be boiled down to agreeing with pro-choicers that they are right even in abortion scenarios most normal people find inexcusable (late term abortions) or castigating other pro-lifers for being evil, horrible people, one has to wonder how much good is being done. If I were pro-choice, this blog would certainly not convince me otherwise based on the recent content.

I think my main point in that is that sometimes we have to work with people we disagree with on some matters, and outright condemning them and everything they have ever done for their ignorance in specific matters is counterproductive. Such widespread abhorrence does no one any good. I happen to believe that Akin deserves as much personal forgiveness as those women who willingly signed up for abortion or those abortion providers who eventually changed their minds. It doesn't make him any less wrong or any more a political liability, but it also doesn't make him EVIL.

I really hope this blog gets back to the real matter of trying to promote the pro-life cause soon rather than spending all of its time discussing what it hates about most pro-lifers and how the pro-choicers are really right about most of their arguments after all. If that isn't possible, perhaps one should re-evaluate what the real purpose is right now.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you said, and find Akin's comments deeply reprehensible, but what I hear almost no one doing is putting any sort of context around why we're hearing phrases like "legitimate rape" and "forcible rape" from the GOP. Admittedly, they have not explained it well and seem to have breathtakingly poor appreciation themselves. But there IS more context.

The question is not whether or not the woman is lying about having been raped, but whether or not the rape exception for abortion can be defined broadly by those who would seek to circumvent laws restricting abortion or its funding via taxpayer dollars.

Unfortunately, if the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, history suggests that it WILL be used to provide and pay for abortions that it is intended to except. Think about how exceptions for the "mother's health" have been used by unscrupulous abortion providers. "Health" was added to "life and health" in order to accomodate very serious consequences that could result in significant disability or impairment for the mother, but possibly not loss of life. It was NOT intended to be interpreted broadly to allow late-term abortions for "stress." Or, even worse, the late George Tiller, openly advocated for a definition of "health" that would be expansive enough to include things like "family health" and "financial health," and thus essentially invalidate the intent of a law restricting late-term abortions of healthy, viable children. According to the definition he supported, a mother could qualify for a taxpayer-funded, legal, late-term abortion of a healthy baby if she said that continuing her pregnancy jeopardized her "financial health."

There is a valid conversation to be had about whether or not a broad rape exception. Some questions... Are statutory rape and forcible rape to be treated the same? Is there any cutoff of the rape exception based on the viability of the baby? Is a woman saying something like, "I knew I'd missed a pill and we shouldn't, but my husband really wanted to," enough evidence of "nonconsensual sex" for a provider to give taxpayer funding under the rape exception? Will Planned Parenthood affiliates continue the practice of giving "advice," revealed in undercover investigations, about how to get around restrictions by saying the right thing? I.e., if there is no requirement that there be a police report, what prevents the PP counselor from "advising" that if the woman just checks the rape box, there will be no restrictions and it will be paid for by federal dollars?

Personally, I understand all of this GOP language as driven by an intent to cast aspersions on the honesty of abortion providers, not women, but I agree that they sure don't explain it that way, and allow the left to run wild with their own false narratives.

Anonymous said...

To be totally fair when it comes to people believing or questioning rape claims, rape doesn't leave obvious evidence in the same way that most other crimes do. It's easy to prove people had sexual contact, but proving whether it was consensual or not is danged hard. As for whether people doubt thefts, police definitely do question whether a theft really happened if the insurance money from the stolen object is suspiciously showing up just as the alleged victim desperately needs extra cash.

Having said that, Akin's comments were incredibly stupid and harmful. I don't think he's a bad person, but he should have A) researched a lot more before he went around stating this like a fact and B) thought about what implications his comments could have.

"Are there no pro-life candidates who are knowledgeable and sensitive about women's lives?"

Well, of course there are. Akin just isn't one of them.

Jen R said...

"Well, of course there are. Akin just isn't one of them."

That's what I mean, though. People act like pro-lifers *have* to line up behind Akin, which implies that we can't do better. I reject that. There are better people out there who could be our representatives, and it's high time we demanded them.

M said...

This blog is one by more than one person. We encourage a variety of secular, pro-life views.

Yesterday's author, Simon, does not believe abortion is permissible, except perhaps in cases of rape. Indeed, the concluding sentence of his post states, "The most you could do would be to offer the woman a choice between jail time or the fetus’s use of her body." How does saying a woman would face jail time imply that abortion is permissible? Simon elaborates more on his stance in the comments section of that blog post.

I'd be very interested if you could point me to where this blog has ever stated that pro-choicers are right about late-term abortions.

As far as today's post: Jen condemns Akin's comments and gives specific reasons as to why she finds the comments so offensive. She also disagrees with the implication that his comments are acceptable as long as he's done pro-life work. That doesn't mean his pro-life work is irrelevant, only that it does not excuse the mentality he expressed.

Of course you're free to disagree, but that doesn't mean Jen is saying something other than what she wrote. Nowhere did she say Akin was "EVIL" or that he should never be forgiven.

I question your math about the "majority of the posts on this blog" "conceding" pro-choicers. So far you have displayed a misunderstanding of yesterday's and today's posts, but even going beyond that, let's take the rest of the posts for this month as an example:

Response to article in "The Humanist" - explains SPL's pro-life stance and how the pro-choice author was incorrect and fallacious on multiple counts.

Shooting at ProLife Office in D.C. - speaks out against violence

Viability = Personhood? - rebuts the idea that viability is required for personhood ( a common pro-choice assertion)

Gosnell Updates - highlights the reprehensible events that happened under infamous abortionist Gosnell

People v. Davis - talks about a CA Supreme Court case that considered third party killing of a fetus murder regardless of fetal viability (again going against the pro-choice personhood/viability assertion)

Implications - asks for discussion on what it would mean for abortion to be illegal as far as non-abortion law is concerned

Democratic Platform ProLife? - talks about some Democrats trying to make the party platform more open to pro-lifers

Pregnant? Don't come to our school. - calls for support for teens in unplanned pregnancies

Consciousness = Personhood? - argues against the pro-choice assertion that you aren't a person unless you have consciousness

IVF and Motivations - emphasizes that human beings begin at conception, regardless of how they are conceived

Fetal Pain & Arizona - argues against the idea that in order to be a person you'd have to feel pain

Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars - encourages people to purchase/read a pro-life book

Summer Successes - reviews the pro-life projects SPL has been working on.

Where's the "majority" of posts agreeing pro-choicers and condemning pro-lifers?

M said...

Sorry, it should say "*run* by more than one person"...

M said...

Very thoughtful.

As I understand it, "health" was broadly defined pretty much from the onset through Doe v. Bolton ( But I take your point on how an exception, say, for a woman's life, expanded to an exception for practically anything.

I agree that there would be similar logistical problems with a rape exception, but I think that's somewhat of a separate topic from whether there should be a rape exception in theory. That is, say we had a world where we could perfectly accurately implement a rape exception--then what would you think about having said exception?

Dolce said...

I'll chime in here just because I've been thinking about this for awhile. I think I might be okay with a rape exception (especially here in Canada where there are currently no exceptions at all to abortion-on-demand) if a few requirements were met.

1. That we could reasonably accurately (nothing is perfect after-all) implement a rape exception.

2. That a woman who became pregnant after rape would be guaranteed counseling (health, mental, parental, and legal), healthcare, support, and protection from the rapist should she decide to keep the baby (that way we eliminate women having abortions out of fear of unnecessary consequences such as the rapist filing for custody).

3. That women could be put in contact with other women who have gone through similar trauma and chosen life or chosen abortion.

These are my thoughts, but I am in no way well-versed on this issue (and I have not ever been directly impacted by rape, so looking to women (and men, of course) who have gone through this, or who were conceived in rape for direction would be most helpful for the debate I think).

Anonymous said...

"That a public figure is blithely, proudly ignorant about subjects on which he proposes to legislate is appalling."

That is not a reasonable description of Akin's comments. He cited a licensed physician. After the claim was disputed, he investigated the factual claim more closely and then repudiated it.

"That happens in virtually every discussion of rape outside of explicitly feminist and anti-rape spaces..."

What is your evidence for this claim?

"If a woman knows that she will be suspected of lying about her rape if her pregnancy becomes known, and might even have to share custody or allow visitation by her rapist, how much weight must that add to the abortion end of the scale?"

Not much, I expect. Have isolated comments ever before caused a spike in the number of abortions or a decrease in the rate of rape reporting? Incidentally, why have you not criticized the media outlets who publicized his remarks? Few women would have been aware of the comments had they not so widely and frequently reported on them.