Political Animal


August 20, 2012 11:45 AM Defining Away Rape

By Ed Kilgore

The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta provides a very useful history of the frequency of and reasons for the kind of impolitic nonsense on abortion that got Todd Akin into so much trouble:

[H]is comments were hardly some kind never-before-heard gaffe. Arguments like his have cropped up again and again on the right over the past quarter century and the idea that trauma is a form of birth control continues to be promulgated by anti-abortion forces that seek to outlaw all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest. The push for a no-exceptions anti-abortion policy has for decades gone hand in hand with efforts to downplay the frequency with which rape- or incest-related pregnancies occur, and even to deny that they happen, at all. In other words, it’s not just Akin singing this tune.

Indeed, it’s this bizarre claim that is at the heart of repeated efforts by conservative legislators at both the federal and state levels to limit “rape” exceptions to “forcible” rapes or some other such euphemism. Just last year GOP congressman and anti-choice warhorse Chris Smith of New Jersey was forced to drop language in a bill that supposedly made the Hyde Amendment (banning use of federal funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape and incest) permanent which would have redefined “rape” as “forcible.” In effect the there-are-no-real-rape-pregnancies rap is part of an ongoing effort to paper over differences in the anti-choice movement between those who are willing to risk extreme political peril in the pursuit of the most rigorous abortion bans, and those who aren’t—a compromise, if you will, between sincere fanatics and cynical opportunists.

The enduring significance of Akin’s “gaffe” (which meets the Kinsley Gaffe definition of an utterance that reveals the pol’s true feelings) may be to force anti-choicers in one direction or the other: towards the morally repugnant view that rape and incest victims need to be forced to carry pregnancies to term, and the morally inconsistent position that a zygote’s status and rights depend on the circumstances of its conception. Defining away rape won’t cut it any more.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • jjm on August 20, 2012 11:56 AM:

    Ryan is on the very same page as Akin. That's what you'll get if you elect this monster. Ryan cosponsored Akin's bill to redefine rape.)

  • davidp on August 20, 2012 11:57 AM:

    As Tomasky points out today, Ryan and Akin were among the sponsors of a House bill that made the distinction between statutory and forcible rape. So it's a moot point whether Akin said anything that Ryan disagrees with.

  • c u n d gulag on August 20, 2012 12:13 PM:

    I wonder if Akin’s was conceived by a case of "legitimate" anal rape, since he’s grown up to be such an asshole?

    Btw – this guy is on the House SCIENCE Committee.

    Well, I guess if you can have Bachmann on the Intelligence Committee, that’s not that far a stretch…

    Oh, and you know who’s conspicuously missing in any of these converstations about Akin?
    Paul Ryan – who co-sponored Akin's draconian anti-abortion bill, that’s who.

    Someone needs to ask Ryan what his definition of “legitimate rape” is!

  • Bokonon on August 20, 2012 12:29 PM:

    What Akin did was refreshingly honest - if really inconvenient for the GOP and the pro-life movement generally.

    Akin dropped the usual code words and double-speak, and said what a lot of the pro-lifers REALLY THINK, and what they say when they are together, away from the microphones or cameras. I know it is true because I have heard it and seen it myself - as well as received the chain e-mails forwarded by fundamentalist friends.

    So it isn't like this is a new idea on the political right -it just usually doesn't usually get spoken. It is reserved for the activists and insiders, not for the media. And for a good reason - it causes shock and revulsion among squishy moderates when it is revealed outside the hard-core fundamentalists and pro-life activists. The IDEA is shocking, as are the policy implications. This isn't a warm, fuzzy, soft-focus policy of liking cute babies.

    But it is a powerful animating principle (as well as an excuse for not having ANY allowable abortions). As others have pointed out, you can see this idea's imprint in the GOP's legislation and policy positions. Like the "personhood" ballot initiatives in states like Colorado and Mississippi. Or ... um ... Paul Ryan's bills in Congress.

    So this idea is all over. And has been for a while. We are just experiencing a moment of clarity right now, before the apologists and smoke-blowers and propagandists sweep in and distract us again (the way that they did after the last "war on women" stuff over the summer).

  • Leopold Von Ranke on August 20, 2012 12:51 PM:

    Having prosecuted several cases of rape, I tend to see them all as "illegitimate." I apparently have strange opinions though, including believing that a crime is a crime. Apparently, conservatives have a different and more "legitimate" perspective.

  • Mad_nVt on August 20, 2012 12:54 PM:

    Bingo Kilgore, you got a winning line, keep pounding away at this.

    "A zygote’s status and rights depend on the circumstances of its conception."

  • john sherman on August 20, 2012 1:11 PM:

    Some time in the late 70's state senator Florian Chimeleski (spelling approx), a "pro-life" Democrat, announced on the floor of the Minnesota Senate, that pregnancy resulting from rape was impossible. The basis of the claim as I recall was that ovulation required orgasm. I had heard the claim in the mid 60's although not in the context of the abortion debate, but simply by a jerk bragging about how often his wife got pregnant.

    Apparently there's some medical folklore floating around out there.

  • Peter C on August 20, 2012 1:14 PM:

    Forced childbirth and single-parenthood for rape victims - this is what the GOP would institute at the same time that they shred the social safety net. It's their way of making morally-imperative lemonade.

  • Peter C on August 20, 2012 1:16 PM:

    Sorry, I meant 'unmarried rape victims'.

  • boatboy_srq on August 20, 2012 1:29 PM:

    @Peter C - of course that's the goal. That way, the Xtian boys can tell the "good" girls from the "bad" girls - so they know which to marry and which to f##k.

  • DRF on August 20, 2012 1:35 PM:

    I think this is a bit of a tempest in a teapot. Is Akin's willful ignorance about the possiblity of pregnancy in cases of rape any different than climate change denial, opposition to evolution or any of the other rightwing rejections of science and fact?

    The larger point which Akin was making in context was that, if you oppose abortion on the moral grounds that it is the taking of an innocent life, then there is no good reason to distinguish between pregnancies as a result of rape and other pregnancies. If you are pro-life, his point is perfectly valid if badly stated.

  • David Martin on August 20, 2012 2:03 PM:

    DRF is correct, although religious conservatives, while rejecting science and fact, tend to be very fond of facts that fit with their world views, and they support "true" science and "true" history like David Barton's concoctions.

    At a time when trust of government, science, and anything "mainstream" is at a low ebb, I wouldn't dismiss Mr. Akin's chances of winning the election by emphasizing his apparent view that no pregnancy should be ended, no matter how unwelcome the fetus or its male parent. I don't think many voters hold such extreme views, but I've long been impressed at how many people embrace religious and political leaders with extreme views. Maybe extremism is seen as a sign of integrity?

  • SecularAnimist on August 20, 2012 2:17 PM:

    DRF wrote: "The larger point which Akin was making in context was that, if you oppose abortion on the moral grounds that it is the taking of an innocent life, then there is no good reason to distinguish between pregnancies as a result of rape and other pregnancies."

    On the contrary, Akin was very clearly trying to AVOID making that point, by claiming that it is impossible for pregnancy to result from rape in the first place.

    If Akin wanted to argue the "moral" point you describe, then he should have done that. Instead, he's running away from that "moral" argument, hiding behind bizarre claims to pretend that such a case cannot arise.

  • Mitch on August 20, 2012 2:27 PM:

    @john sherman

    I would imagine that the medical folklore you mention is based on the idea that the female orgasm encourages pregancy. That the movements of the cervix caused by an orgasm reportedly helps to move more sperm deeper into the reproductive system, increasing the odds of fertilization. I recall a documentary from the mid-90's that had film footage of the cervix "dipping" into the sperm during the woman's orgasm (and what a trooper she must have been allowing that to be filmed for the sake of science). As a result, women are supposedly more likely to get pregnant if they have an orgasm.

    There is A LOT of debate about this, and I don't know if female orgasm actually does aid pregnancy, but it makes sense to me. Evolution generated sexual pleasure to encourage procreation, after all. If any real doctors/biologists are in the house, perhaps they can clarify.

    BUT - and this is the part morons like Akin don't seem to understand - a orgasm may (or may not) help a woman become pregnant, but they ARE NOT required. Witness the countless women who have stated that they seldom, if ever, climax; yet they still procreate just fine.

    Of course, I do not expect most conservative men to have the stomach or brains to attempt to understand the workings of biology. I am sure that if Akin read this comment, he would probably pass out from shame and disgust; since that seems to be the reaction of conservative men when discussing female anatomy.

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