August 22, 2012

The Politics of Rape

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Todd Akin, a Republican congressman from Missouri, recently got into trouble by claiming that women who are raped are very rarely impregnated because “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

After an uproar of criticism, Akin walked back his comments saying, “That’s not true. I was misinformed.”

I was initially interested that he said that he was “misinformed” not that he had misspoken or was misquoted, which is the typical response given by wayward politicians.

I couldn’t understand where a United States congressman gets his information on trauma and sexual health. It turns out that, as Andrew Sullivan noted yesterday, Akin’s information was coming from the very top of the pro-life movement. A recent Los Angeles Times article identified the former president of the U.S. National Right to Life Committee, Dr. Jack C. Willke as a lead proponent of the idea that “assault rape” cannot lead to pregnancy because of the trauma it incurs on a woman. Willke is no fringe social conservative, he was president of the oldest and largest pro-life organization in the United States

According to the Times, Willke said on Monday that it’s “just downright unusual” for a woman to become impregnated by her rapist.

This theory flies in the face of numerous scientific studies, one of which that was highlighted in the Times article, by Scientists at St. Lawrence University, “concluded in 2001 that the rate of rape-related pregnancy is even higher — 6.4%, twice the rate of pregnancy from consensual sex.”

So, how do social conservatives like Akin and Willke rebut these findings? They do it by claiming that many women lie about being raped. Akin and Willke have both argued that women make “false claims” about being raped, as an excuse for getting abortions.

Considering the fact that the public overwhelmingly supports keeping abortion legal in cases of rape and incest, it’s important for Akin, Willke, and those who agree with them to argue that those attacks cannot actually yield pregnancies – therefore any legal abortion is yielded totally unnecessary.

Akin, who is still leading in the polls in Missouri, could very well see himself elected with the argument that the vast majority of women who had to seek abortions, after being attacked by a rapist, we’re actually liars.

Akin’s comments confused me, but I could have understood if it was just the result of a few fanatic’s pro-life beliefs.

The fact that a tremendous number of voters might actually allow for, if not fully accept, those beliefs is a frightening reminder of the deeply embedded social conservative nature of many American voters.

Original Author: Noah Karr-Kaitin