I barely knew that such a thing was possible, but Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin has given Americans another reason not to vote Republican in the upcoming election by claiming that women cannot get pregnant as a result of ‘legitimate rape’.
Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before both Todd Akin and #LegitimateRape became trending topics worldwide on Twitter.
Talking about pregnancy resulting from rape in an interview with KTVI-TV, Akin said that:
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors, it is really rare…. If it is a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.” (Source: Guardian)
Not only does this make the female body sound like a criminal organisation, poised to take on hostile sperm in a kind of mafia-style shootout, it is complete nonsense. While it is true that the body may reject a pregnancy due to trauma as a result of a violent rape, instances are not so rare as to support Akin’s no-exceptions stance on abortion. Medical studies have shown that around 5% of all rapes lead to pregnancy – around 32,000 cases a year in the US. Lesson number one, Akin: ‘what you understand’ does not constitute a solid basis for policy.
Lesson number two: need I point out that there is no such thing as ‘legitimate rape’? The phrase stinks of rape apology – the idea that one kind of sexual violence may be more ‘legitimate’ or real than another. It places it in opposition to illegitimate rape, or sort-of rape or you could call it rape. It fuels the notion that sex only counts as rape under extremely specific circumstances, and isn’t really rape if the victim isn’t screaming and struggling. As I pointed out in a post a few weeks ago, any sexual activity to which one party does not consent is rape. For a high-profile authority figure to suggest otherwise is deeply worrying – if not surprising.
Akin went on to say that he would not be in favour of abortion even on the occasions that this mysterious defence system “didn’t work”, saying that the punishment should be “on the rapist and not attacking the child”. His statement clearly demonstrates that the number of women who do get pregnant after being raped isn’t all that important to him. If, as he says, abortion is an ‘attack’ on an unborn child, then it should never be allowed, regardless of circumstance or frequency. This shows a complete disregard for those women who do become pregnant as a result of being raped – just one in a string of onslaughts on women’s rights in the Republican War on Women.
The best response I’ve seen was retweeted a little earlier by Planned Parenthood:
A fantastic idea! Perhaps something will come of this after all.
Todd Akin later responded to the backlash in an interview, saying [emphasis mine]:
“I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action. I also recognize that there are those who, like my opponent, support abortion and I understand I may not have their support in this election.”
Akin’s admission that abortion is “an emotionally charged issue” borders on the classic ‘I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings’ non-apology – except this time, there really is no apology. Not only did he completely fail to apologise for his statement, Akin failed to address many of the points raised above and by hundreds of members of the public, both on Twitter and elsewhere. He followed this up with a clumsy attempt to endear himself to viewers with more shameless self-promotion in the form of a stab at the Democrats:
“But I also believe that this election is about a wide-range of very important issues, starting with the economy and the type of country we will be leaving our children and grandchildren. We’ve had 42 straight months of unacceptably high unemployment, trillion dollar deficits, and Democratic leaders in Washington who are focused on growing government, instead of jobs. That is my primary focus in this campaign and while there are those who want to distract from that, knowing they cannot defend the Democrats’ failed economic record of the last four years, that will continue to be my focus in the months ahead.”
The claim that the entirely valid outcry in response to his statement is an attempt to distract from other, more pressing, matters is utterly contemptuous. Still, it might not be all bad; it is possible that his comments have lost him his seat at the next election. One can only hope.