When Rep. Todd Akin opened his mouth and let waves of ignorance flow out with his comments about “legitimate rape” and pregnancy, he inadvertently stripped off the veneer that has covered Republican abortion politics for years. So, before the national condemn-a-thon of the GOP senate candidate from Missouri peters out, let’s take a look at its broader meaning before national Republicans are able to restore the shellac.
Akin is not just some look spouting some wacky theory he made up. Instead, the “real rape victims can’t get pregnant” idea has been a piece of Republican politics for years. Stephen Freind from Pennsylvania, Henry Aldridge from North Carolina, Fay Boozman from Arkansas, have all uttered the same thing. Dig around for a few seconds on the internet and you’ll stumble across more than a few conservative treatises about the “myth” that rape victims can get pregnant.
These politicos offer all sorts of explanations for their bizarre belief: the trauma of rape leads women to secrete a spermicide, the “juices” don’t flow in a rape which prevents pregnancy, and – my favorite – that rape victims are protected by “God’s little shield.” That only gets to the biological absurdities – then there are the definitional ones. Clearly, the logic goes, if a rape victim can’t conceive, then a woman who claims to have been raped but got pregnant is obviously lying. Thus, this crowd tosses around terms like “real rape,” “legitimate rape,” and “honest rape.”
In truth, Republicans have long been mealy mouthed about rape. There is this sneer about it – almost always issued by men – that reflects this general sense that rape is really not all that bad. “Just lie back and enjoy it” was the way it was put by Clayton Williams, a GOP candidate for Texas governor. In his 2012 presidential run for the GOP nomination, Rick Santorum famously uttered that women “should make the best of a bad situation” by carrying a pregnancy that resulted from rape to term.
What too many in the GOP seem to believe is that rape is a sex act, when it is instead an act of violence. Thus, their repeated efforts to depict “legitimate rape” as those instances where a woman is brutalized. And in some cases, only a particular kind of woman. That was captured by state Sen. Bill Napoli, a Republican from South Dakota, who described an instance where he believed an abortion of a rape victim might be ok:
“A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.”
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have already issued their condemnations of Akin, but no one should let that fly. In truth, Romney has had so many positions on abortion that he very well might start campaigning for Akin tomorrow if he decided it could aid in his presidential bid. Remember, this is the man who said “you will not see me wavering on that” when he expressed his support for a woman’s right to choose during his campaign for Massachusetts governor.
But now, both men are stuck on their own proclamations. Romney has said, without hesitation, that he would support a constitutional amendment declaring a zygote is a person. If he means that – and god knows if he does – then it would be impossible to allow for abortion in cases of rape or incest. Paul Ryan went down a similar path, co-sponsoring a bill that declared a zygote to be a person. Obviously, if such ideas were law, hen it would be impossible to allow for abortion in cases of rape or incest. Could a woman who is raped kill her three year old child? A ridiculous concept, but it is the logical extension of “zygote as person” and allowing any form of abortion. The needs of a woman who has been raped would not be as important under the law the initial cell formed when two gamete cells are joined.
And, of course, Ryan was part of the Republican crowd that tried to redefine rape in the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion” bill. He co-sponsored the bill, which tried to redefine rape as only including those instances of “forcible rape.”
You know, legitimate cases. And joining in lock-step with Ryan’s attack on rape victims: Todd Akin. But then, you knew that was coming already.