‘Legitimate Rape’ Fantasies Nothing New for Conservatives
U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, the GOP Senate candidate and frontrunner in Missouri, set off a media and partisan firestorm yesterday after making claims in which he noted women who are raped have a natural defense against getting pregnant from said rape. In his explanation, he referred to something as “legitimate rape,” and used pseudo science to claim that, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” in certain instances.
Akin is all over the news today, and even conservative media mouthpieces have begun calling for him to exit the race. But the candidate’s comments and the process by which he led himself to such horrendous views—most notably, what constitutes a “legitimate rape”—is nothing new for the GOP and social conservatives alike. There are plenty of local instances in which they’ve used similar fake biological miracles to qualify their anti-choice views.
Let’s start with Akin. On the Jaco Report, a local television show in his home state, Akin was asked: “What about in the case of rape: should [abortion] be legal or not?”
After calling that a “particularly tough, ethical question,” he noted: “From what I understand from doctors, that’s 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, you know, I think there should be some punishment but the punishment ought to be on the rapist.”
His opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, later wrote on Twitter: “As a woman & former prosecutor who handled 100s of rape cases, I’m stunned by Rep. Akin’s comments about victims this AM.”
Mitt Romney called the comment “insulting, inexcusable and, frankly, wrong,” and that’s been echoed by several GOP strategists and media fellows. Because even the GOP can see such a statement for what it is: stupid, wrong, based on nothing. (A 1996 study in the American Journal of Obsterics and Gynecology noted about 5 percent of rapes—or 32,101 cases—result in pregnancy. More recently, a 2006 Pandora’s Project study found that about 4.7 percent of rapes result in pregnancies, most of which were brought on by a known or related attacker.)
Last year, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey was the primary sponsor (and several Pennsylvania Republicans and Democrats were co-sponsors) of a woman-shaming bill oddly dubbed the “No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act.” It sought to redefine rape so that those who receive Medicaid, and who were raped, could only get an abortion if said rape could be proven to have looked like a violent scene out of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
According to progressive community Common Dreams, the bill would “deny Medicaid coverage for abortion to survivors of statutory rape and any incest survivor who is 18 years of age or older. A redefinition of rape would also affect federal employees, military women, and women who buy insurance through the newly formed exchanges being developed under the health-reform law.”
But that’s not all. Or new. Former GOP state Rep. Stephen Freind of Delaware County noted in a 1988 debate that the odds of a rape victim becoming pregnant are, “one in millions and millions and millions.” He claimed women have the power to “secret[e] a certain secretion which has a tendency to kill the sperm.”
In 1979, Federal Judge James Leon Holmes said: “Concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.”
As noted at Talking Points Memo, former state legislator Henry Aldridge of North Carolina made similar claims in the 1990s. “The facts show that people who are raped — who are truly raped — the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant,” he noted. When later challenged on such weird views, he said: “To get pregnant, it takes a little cooperation. And there ain’t much cooperation in a rape.”
Later, in the ’90s, Rep. Fay Boozman reportedly used the term “God’s little shield” to legitimatize the biological anomaly, though denied those specific words later on to the Washington Post. Boozman was later appointed to Arkansas Health Department by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee who—surprise!—supports Rep. Akin in the Missouri Senate race this year.
Akin issued a fake apology earlier today, noting, “I used the wrong words in the wrong way.” He’s come back on the idea that women secrete sperm-killing venom, though as Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs has noted, he’s “Still pushing ‘legitimate rape’ line.” Obama has responded: “The views are offensive. Rape is rape.” Akin noted he hasn’t personally been asked to step down by anyone in the GOP.
And he probably won’t.
Both Missouri law and the proximity to the 2012 elections show the GOP may be stuck with Akin this year—and though most polls show him leading by high single digits, don’t expect that to last too long. Considering the basis of his argument (science is wrong, abortion), don’t expect his line of thinking to go away within conservative circles anytime soon, either.