Missouri Congressman Todd Akin is opposed to abortion, which doesn’t make him too unusual in the field of American politics. But yesterday he said something so despicable and false that he’s found himself in a world of pain. Akin was explaining to a local Fox host why he’s opposed to legal abortion even in cases of rape: Victims of “legitimate rape,” he explained, can’t get pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Uh, yes they can, and no it doesn’t.
Akin prefaced his jaw-dropping statement by saying it’s “From what I understand from doctors.” And, he continued, abortion should not be available to the women whose miraculous natural defense mechanisms somehow fail.
That strange term “legitimate rape” is a nod to the division some right-wing thinkers make between forcible, sudden rape by a stranger — which everyone agrees counts as “real” — and supposedly fuzzier crimes like date rape. And as Kate Sheppard writes at Mother Jones, Akin is hardly alone in his belief that victims of “legitimate rape” are unlikely to become pregnant. The gist of the idea is that when a woman is truly being assaulted, she becomes so flooded with stress hormones, or something, that implantation can’t occur. In 1998, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that a Senate candidate claimed rape victims couldn’t get pregnant because of “God’s little protective shield.” (So when the body spontaneously prevents implantation, it’s God’s work, but when Plan B does it, it’s murder.) Sheppard points to several fringe pro-life websites that claim that pregnancies from rape are incredibly rare. Enough people believe this that Planned Parenthood felt the need to address the question on its FAQ page, which says that more than 5% of all rapes result in pregnancy.
Predictably, Akin is starting his week facing a torrent of outrage, even from his political allies. Mitt Romney’s campaign said yesterday that he disagreed with Akin’s comments, and that a Romney administration would not oppose abortion in rape cases. Akin himself quickly released a mealy-mouthed apology about how he “misspoke” in his “off-the-cuff remarks.” The apology does not acknowledge the crazy unscientific claims regarding “legitimate rape.”
Akin’s opponent in the race is incumbent senator Claire McCaskill, who reacted quickly to Akin’s statement by taking to Twitter yesterday. This morning she capitalized on her opponent’s error by appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to warn that “this statement is kind of a window into Todd Akin’s mind.” McCaskill also discussed her years as a prosecutor in which she “did hundreds and hundreds of rape cases, held their hands, cried with them.” Annnd the point goes to McCaskill!
Akin was ahead in the polls before his telling gaffe this weekend, but if voters in Missouri are paying attention, that may not be true for long. After all, many voters have a natural defense mechanism to protect them against awful misogynists.