My Dearest Daughter:
At some point over the last 18 years, I, like many other moms out there, started to worry about the sort of world I brought you into. This is your first week of college, and it’s also your first time away from home for an extended period of time. Your world is opening up in exciting and challenging new ways, but still, sometimes I feel as if I’ve launched you into outer space — into a disorienting, alien landscape that I don’t quite recognize. Case in point: Rep. Todd Akin’s statement about “legitimate rape.” By now you know the ridiculous essence of the story — that Akin said that when a so-called “legitimate rape” occurs, a woman’s body somehow knows to shut itself down to prevent pregnancy.
My precious daughter, you plan to major in biology and you will surely learn that this man has propagated a disgusting, bald lie in order to force women to carry a traumatic or unwanted pregnancy to term. In fact, last year Akin co-sponsored a bill with Paul Ryan, the presumed Republican vice-presidential nominee, that permitted Medicaid to pay for an abortion only in the case of a “forcible rape.” If an adult relative raped a young girl or a co-ed was date-raped by another student, these men believe that those rapes should not be eligible for abortions under Medicaid.
How did we get here? What sort of country am I leaving to you?
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.
Perhaps it’s not shocking that Representative Todd Akin, the Republican Senate nominee from Missouri who’s backed by the Tea Party, opposes abortion even in the case of rape. More surprising is the backward and scrambling way he justifies his position. In an interview with a St. Louis television station, Mr. Akin presented a muddied “clarification” on his views on Sunday:
It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape is] 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 of the rapist, and not attacking the child.
There’s plenty of reason to take issue with what he says. That rape is unlikely to cause pregnancy. That an abortion is somehow akin to a criminal prosecution. That rape must be qualified as “legitimate” unfairly suggests victims who routinely cry wolf. That rape happens not to a person but to the object that is the “female body.”
This is an upsetting message. But equally troubling are the fumbling, inarticulate euphemisms Akin uses to convey it. You can practically hear him blush as he pronounces wordy allusions to “that whole thing” and the unspecified physical process “that didn’t work or something.”