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Todd Akin, Legitimate Rape and the Right to Life

Legitimate WHAT?

In the age of mass media, abortion rights activists are at a distinct disadvantage. We are hard-wired to feel protective toward infants.  Images of shredded fetuses and talk of "baby-killing" incline us to sympathy for the poor, helpless babe in the womb. The right to choice, by contrast, is far more abstract - especially for those who don't have wombs.  Just about everybody agrees that murdering children is a bad thing. Not everyone is amenable to arguments that the fetus is really a parasite

Given that, we can be thankful for anti-abortion crusaders like Missouri Representative Todd Akin. Akin has a history of boneheaded bon-mots: he has claimed "at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God" and said uninsured 28-year old cancer patients should "be held accountable for their decisions." But what catapaulted him to fame was his now notorious bit of mansplaining concerning abortions for rape survivors.

It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.

Akin proceeded to defend his comments by replacing "legitimate rape" with "forcible rape" - a distinction made in the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act he co-sponsored with current Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan. The GOP then issued a party platform which reaffirmed their opposition to abortion but remained silent on rape and incest exceptions. And the once pro-choice Romney now states that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother even as he tries desperately to avoid the issue

This kind of synchronized foot-shooting is a rare and glorious sight, and we can hardly be surprised to see Democratic and pro-choice leaders milking it for all it is worth. But perhaps amidst all the shouting we might do well to understand each other's position. Let us assume for a moment that there are sincere and well-meaning people on both sides of this issue, take their arguments at face value, and follow their logical positions in an effort to find common ground. 

If we are to treat a rapist's fetus as a child, we should accord it the same presumption of innocence we accord any other child. Even death-penalty loving America doesn't punish criminals by executing their families.  The fetus is not guilty of the rape which engendered it: killing it for its father's crime is no less murder than killing it for any other reason.  While the position taken by Akin (and VP candidate Ryan) may be controversial, it is logically consistent. 

But logical consistency is not always emotionally satisfying. One need not have ovaries to understand the horror of being forced to bear your rapist's child. And so many, indeed most, foes of legal abortion grudgingly acknowledge abortion should be allowed for rape, incest and in questions of the mother's health. They seek to distinguish between deserving patients who truly need an abortion and those harlots unable to keep an aspirin between their knees

The problem, alas, can be seen in this missive from Akin supporters American Vision

There is, after all, the distinct possibility that if abortion were outlawed but with an exception for “rape,” that many of the women who buy abortions purely out of convenience today would then simply claim to have been raped in order to procure the legality.

For some reason, even to mention the possibility that a woman may lie about being raped is supposed to be politically incorrect—untouchable. It enrages leftists, and for some reason, therefore, frightens conservatives. Are a woman’s intentions never to questioned—completely off limits—when she claims to have been raped?

The answer is generally yes, but there is a least one major exception to this: When she intends to use that claim as justification to murder an innocent third party, a baby. The right to life trumps the right to privacy.

Liberals may wish us to believe that no woman would ever stoop so low as to lie about being raped. But this simply does not comport with what we Christians know about fallen human nature. We, conservatives, all agree that millions of women annually conspire to commit murder on their unborn babies. So do you expect me to feel it unacceptable to believe they would lie about why? This is political correctness run amok. Why, after all, would someone willing to kill out of convenience not also lie for various reasons out of convenience?

If this law is to have any kind of teeth we will need some way of determining who has or has not been raped.  A rape survivor who finds herself pregnant will be forced to justify herself. She will be asked to recount the details of her assault yet again and questioned about any perceived ambiguities or contradictions in her statement. She will be forced to lie on a table with her legs spread while a doctor probes with various instruments to determine if her rape was sufficiently forcible. These authorities will then tell this woman whether or not she will be allowed to terminate her pregnancy.

This is the mainstream position within the anti-abortion movement. This is what they envision for my daughter, for my wife, for the over 1 million American women who are raped each year. While Akin is certainly richly deserving of scorn, we also owe him a considerable debt of gratitude for putting this issue back on the front pages and firing up the complacent. It should be abundantly clear by now that banning abortion will work about as well as Prohibition or the War on Drugs, with at least as much collateral damage.  

But there are are things people on both sides of the issue can do to stop abortion. We can provide care for pregnant women in need and support them in raising their child. We can provide education which gives women control over their bodies and their fertility. We can treat single mothers with respect instead of marginalizing them as "sluts" and "welfare queens." We can protect the unborn by ensuring their well-being after birth: we can protect freedom of choice by making sure no woman is driven to an abortion by desperation and need.   

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Writer, columnist, and interviewer Kenaz Filan is an initiate of Societe La Belle Venus #2. Her most recent book The Power of the Poppy was published by Inner Traditions in 2011.


  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Friday, 24 August 2012

    Excellent post. :) I would, though, add one other suggestion for reducing the number of abortions each year: raise better sons, who understand that rape is rape, and it is wrong.

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