Sisterhood Blog

On Akin’s ‘Legitimate Rape’ Blow-Up

By Sarah Seltzer

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The Sisterhood’s Blair Thornburgh calls Rep. Todd Akin’s ill-considered words on abortion and rape “immature,” and she’s right about that. Unfortunately, this momentary villain of the political community is not alone in his ignorance and immaturity. Rather, his response resurrects an old Right-Wing canard: Anna North ran down some of the weirdest examples of this myth at BuzzFeed earlier this spring.

The idea that Akin simply verbalized an attitude that many of his peers already embrace but don’t dare utter aloud is more important than the immediate horse-race speculation about his political future. Will Akin be forced to drop out by the GOP? Will he stay in the race? Ultimately, writes my colleague Sarah Jaffe, it doesn’t matter, because the party that has produced Akin has buried itself deep in a misogynist hole:

This isn’t a tiny quibble over a definition of rape or even a hilarious moment to laugh at a Congressman who thinks women have magic reproductive organs. Akin’s “misstatement” is a symptom of a problem that plagues nearly an entire political party and has been given way too much quarter by those who should oppose it.

Some say it’s also a problem that has been given too much leeway by those supposedly in favor of women’s reproductive choice. At Salon, Irin Carmon argues that the whole concept of “rape exceptions” to abortion bans cedes moral ground from the pro-choice side to the pro-lifers. I’ve always felt the same way. You either believe abortion is murder or you don’t; you either think women and doctors are capable of making abortion-related decisions for themselves or you don’t. Once we say “in cases of rape and incest,” we make room for all of this slicing and dicing of “good” vs. “bad” abortions, for “necessary” abortions or “frivolous” ones. And in the eyes of those who don’t see women as fully rational actors, we leave wiggle room in the definition of rape. Ultimately, if we don’t want the government deciding whether a person was raped, we shouldn’t permit that same government to decide whether someone is somehow worthy of obtaining an abortion or abortion funding. That decision should be hers alone.

Akin’s comments also reveal another problem plaguing our society: the insistence of so many elected officials that myth and superstition supersede the facts. Evolution, climate change, reproductive health, women’s bodies — these are all in the same situation right now. Statistical and scientific information sits on one side, entrenched political opposition on the other.

Soraya Chemaly writes at the Huffington Post that the context of Akin’s comments goes far beyond gender:

What Todd Akin said and believes doesn’t just play into a media-catchy, election year “war on women” narrative. It’s part of a reactionary, fundamentalist backlash to modernity. It’s a war on science. It’s a war on facts. It’s a war on critical thinking.

Indeed, when people wonder why die-hard lefties get so wound up about the issue of evolution being taught in schools, it’s because there’s a slippery slope to denying science, and it ends in the beliefs that inform comments like Akin’s.


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