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Todd Akin Finds a Friend

Dr. Willke, an early adopter of the view that rape rarely leads to pregnancy, defends the beleaguered Republican congressman in an interview with The Daily Beast. By Abigail Pesta.

Dr. John Willke, a self-described “founding father” of the pro-life movement, is popping up in the news this week, credited with a dubious honor—helping to inspire Rep. Todd Akin’s controversial views on rape.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Dr. Willke said he believes Akin simply made “a slip of the tongue.”

The "March for Life" rally on Jan. 23, 2012, in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images)

Akin, a conservative Republican congressman from Missouri, has been trying desperately to un-ring the bell he rang on Sunday when he declared in a TV interview that what he called “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy. “The female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” he said in the interview.

His comments drew a furious backlash. There were calls from within his own party, as well as from Democrats, for him to quit the current Senate race in Missouri, where he is running against Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill. President Obama called Akin’s remarks “offensive.” Mitt Romney called them “insulting.”

Amid the uproar, The Washington Post cited longtime pro-lifer Dr. Willke as being historically influential in the conservative school of thought on pregnancy and rape, digging up an essay he wrote more than a decade ago and sparking commentary across the blogosphere.

Dr. Willke, the president of a pro-life group, the Life Issues Institute, and also a physician, has been active in the movement for decades. In the 1970s, he wrote a book called Handbook on Abortion, which he updated and republished in seven editions over the years. In 1984, he helped found the International Right to Life Federation, a group that connects global pro-life groups. And in 1999, he wrote an essay saying that pregnancy from rape is rare. That’s the piece getting cited in the media now.

In that essay, Willke argued that factors such as physical trauma, stress, infertility, and birth control make it highly unlikely for women to get pregnant from rape. “There’s no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape,” he said. “This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation, and even nurturing of a pregnancy.” 


Akin’s Peek Behind the Curtain

The Missouri Senate hopeful’s misogynist claptrap about ‘legitimate rape’ and pregnancy—which has GOP leaders scrambling to denounce him—has been circulating among abortion opponents for years. Kirsten Powers on his Kinsley gaffe.

“Rape is rape.”

Yep, it’s 2012 and the president of the United States had to explain this, since apparently there are still some people who don’t get it. Referring to Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s claim that victims of “legitimate rape” very rarely get pregnant, Obama told the White House press corps, “The idea that we should be parsing, and qualifying, and slicing what types of rape we’re talking about, doesn’t make sense to the American people.”

Congressman Rape Comments

In this Feb. 18 file photo, Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin, R-Missouri, waves to the crowd while introduced at a senate candidate forum during a Republican conference in Kansas City, Mo. The two losing candidates in the Republican primary for Missouri's U.S. Senate seat are getting renewed attention after Akin's comments about rape on Aug. 19. (Orlin Wagner / AP Photo)

Akin now says he “misspoke” when he was explaining his opposition to abortion in cases of rape by telling a Missouri television reporter, “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” The secret is out: the female body is magic.

Really, Akin didn’t “misspeak” at all. He made a Kinsley gaffe: he said publicly what he really thinks, without realizing that Americans have access to biology textbooks.

So where did Akin learn this misogynist claptrap? It’s junk science that has been circulating in the anti-abortion rights movement for some time. In a 1999 essay titled “Rape Pregnancies Are Rare,” National Right to Life president John Willke urged abortion opponents to make distinctions between different kinds of rape. He argued that the physical trauma of rape made it close to impossible to get pregnant.

The Centers for Disease Control says that more than 32,000 pregnancies result from rape every year. That doesn’t really sound like the freak occurrence Willke portrays rapes resulting in pregnancies to be, unless you believe that most of those women are lying, which is the implication in the argument. But what if it was true that pregnancies from rape almost never happened? Late-term abortions are relatively rare, but that doesn’t stop abortion rights opponents from talking about them, nor should it.

Now, I reject the idea that people who oppose abortion rights are “anti-woman,” as the media drumbeat these days would have it. Most abortion rights opponents just don’t think you should end the life of an unborn human being. It’s pretty straightforward. Then there are the Todd Akins and his ilk.


Akin’s Surprising Cheering Squad

While Romney and the GOP establishment are urging the Missouri congressman to quit over his ‘legitimate rape’ comment, a mix of abortion opponents and many Democrats, including his opponent, Claire McCaskill, are urging him to stay—for their own political gain.

The pile-on of Rep. Todd Akin was swift and harsh Monday as video of Akin discussing the benign effects of "legitimate rape" on women shot across TV and computer screens. But a handful of people and organizations—from conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats—have remained silent or even praised the congressman, holding out hope that he would remain in the race against Claire McCaskill in the U.S. Senate.

For abortion opponents, bailing on the staunchly anti-abortion Akin after years of 100 percent ratings from the National Right to Life made no sense, especially when his comments came as he clumsily defended unborn children who are the result of rape. 

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). (Mandel Ngan, AFP / Getty Images)

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, condemned Akin's comments about rape specifically, but did not go after the congressman personally. "Todd Akin ... has a record of voting to protect human life. His opponent does not," she said in a statement. "Congressman Akin has been an excellent partner in the fight for the unborn."

Connie Mackey, the president of Family Research Council Action PAC, flatly said Republicans who are trying to push Akin out of the race have no "backbone."

“We feel this is a case of gotcha politics,” she told Politico. “We know who Todd Akin is because we’ve worked with him up on the Hill. He’s a defender of life. He’s a defender of families. This is just a controversy built up, it looks as though, to support his opposition. Claire McCaskill on the other hand has supported Planned Parenthood all these years ... Todd Akin is getting a very bad break here. We support him fully and completely.”

As abortion opponents stood up for Akin, the majority of the national Republican establishment did just the opposite, sounding a growing drumbeat to get the wounded Akin to leave the Senate race. The first to strike were Mitt Romney and his pro-life running mate, Paul Ryan, who put out a statement Sunday night saying that a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in the case of rape, even though Ryan has opposed abortion in the past in all instances except to protect the life of the mother.

By Monday morning, Romney escalated his language, calling Akin's comments "insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong."  Within hours, Sens. Scott Brown, a moderate, and Ron Johnson, a Tea Party–backed conservative, had both called on Akin to leave the race "for the good of the nation," while Sen. John Cornyn, the powerful leader of the Republicans' campaign efforts to take back the Senate, personally told Akin that national Republicans would not be supporting his candidacy and planned to cancel $5 million of ad buys that had been in the works to boost Akin's run against McCaskill in the fall.   

Say What?

Todd Akin’s Craziest Comments

Rep. Todd Akin angered many liberals and conservatives when he said a woman’s body could shut down a pregnancy in the case of a ‘legitimate rape.’ But that wasn’t the first controversial statement uttered by the Republican from Missouri.

Just a few days ago, Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican from Missouri, was a rising star in his party. He handily won the GOP Senate primary in early August, and appeared to be on his way to unseating Sen. Claire McCaskill, a vulnerable Democrat who has been lagging in the polls. But then, in response to a routine question about whether abortion should be allowed if a woman has been raped, Akin ignited a firestorm. Abortion, however, isn’t the only issue about which Akin has made outrageous statements. Here are five of his greatest hits.

“Legitimate Rape”
Akin’s now-infamous comments that a woman’s body has a defense mechanism that keeps her from getting pregnant if she was the victim of “legitimate rape” have gone viral and been roundly criticized by liberals and conservatives alike. "It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, [rape resulting in pregnancy is] really rare,” Akin said in an interview with KTVI-TV. "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, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child." Almost immediately Akin tried to backtrack, saying he misspoke.  “In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,” Akin said in a statement.

Stage 3 Cancer
What could be more like cancer than the government giving low-interest loans to college students? In April, as the Missouri Senate primary was heating up, Akin attacked the federal loan program, comparing it to the life-threatening disease, because it allowed the federal government to give loans directly to students instead of going through private banks. “America has got the equivalent of the stage three cancer of socialism because the federal government is tampering in all kinds of stuff it has no business tampering in,” Akin said. “What the Democrats did to get rid of the private student loans and take it all over by the government was wrong. It was a lousy bill. That’s why I voted no. The government needs to get its nose out of the education business.”

Creative Health Care Financing
What should happen to a healthy 28-year-old who chooses not to buy health insurance but later gets cancer? According to Akin, a staunch opponent of health care reform, a person who opts not to buy insurance should be held responsible for the bulk of the costs, no matter how expensive the medical bills get. It may just require some self-sacrifice like, say, selling your car to afford the chemo. “All of us make decisions in our lives, and there are consequences of those decisions,” Akin said during a primary debate. “People have to start being held accountable for their decisions and if somebody’s not buying insurance then they’re going to have to be selling their car or whatever it is to try to help cover that.”

Liberals Hate God
Upset that NBC edited out the phrase “under God” as the Pledge of Allegiance was recited at the U.S. Open in June 2011, Akin expressed his frustration during a radio interview with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. He accused the network of systematically and intentionally corroding the values that make America a special place. “I think NBC has a long record of being very liberal and at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God,” Akin said. “And so they’ve had a long history of not being at all favorable toward many of the things that have been such a blessing to our country.”

The Other Half

Who Is Mrs. “Legitimate Rape”?

She might have joined the Peace Corps or worked for Nader. Thank God Missouri Congressman Todd Akin saved the Christian homeschooler and grandmother of eight from such a radical future.

As the media has swarmed Missouri congressman Todd Akin in recent days for his comment that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant, one figure has been largely silent: his wife, Lulli Akin.

Missouri Senate Rape Comments

Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri and his wife, Lulli, talked to reporters at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, Mo., on Aug. 16. (Orlin Wagner / AP Photo)

Time was, Lulli was the last woman you’d expect to be married to a conservative opponent of abortion backed by the Tea Party. After college, she considered joining the Peace Corps, or pursuing a career with the CIA or as a staffer for super leftie Ralph Nader, according to one online bio. Then she met Akin, whom she married in 1975 and who saved her from “such a radical future.” Instead, she took a very different path—evangelical Christian, homemaker, and education pioneer.

The daughter of Norwegian immigrant parents, Lulli Boe was born in Delaware and reportedly relishes tennis and hiking. She studied in France and Norway, and attended Hollins College in Virginia where she majored in sociolinguistics. She moved to Worcester, Mass., working as an engineer at IBM, where she met Todd, then an IBM salesman.

Their courtship was “right out of a biblical romance novel,” wrote a blogger and Akin supporter named Jen Ennenbach. Lulli converted to Christianity through the Bible Study Fellowship, which describes itself as a 50-year-old interdenominational organization on its website. They relocated to St. Louis in 1977 with their first child in tow so that Todd could work as a manager at a steel mill.

On Sunday, Todd Akin made headlines in an interview with KTVI in St. Louis in which he said that pregnancy can be biologically prevented by “legitimate rape,” because “the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down.” Pro-choice activists and Democrats are demanding he resign his seat or, at the very least, be booted from the state House Committee on Science. The Obama campaign quickly used the comment to attack Paul Ryan. “As Republican leader in the House, Mr. Ryan worked with Mr. Akin to try to pass laws that would ban abortion in all cases, and even narrow the definition of ‘rape,’” said spokeswoman Lis Smith in a statement.

Some of Akin’s fellow Republicans are working to distance themselves from the comments. Mitt Romney told the National Review that they were “inexcusable” and some GOP groups have pulled ad buys and funds from his Senate race. Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown called for Akin to relinquish his Senate nomination. (He’d have to resign Tuesday if he really wanted to—according to Missouri statute, candidates can only withdraw up until the 11th Tuesday before an election.)

In an interview with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, in May, Akin said homeschooling the kids was originally Lulli’s idea, a solution she proposed after their oldest son “was not adjusting well in the classroom.”


7 More Crazy Rape Statements

Rep. Todd Akin’s outburst about ‘legitimate rape’ isn’t defensible, but it does have some precedent. From Paul Ryan’s ‘forcible rape’ head-scratcher to a Yale frat’s ‘no means yes’ rally, more shocking examples of male ignorance.

Republican Rep. Todd Akin taught us a little something about what he called “legitimate rape”—a term we weren’t previously familiar with—on local TV this week, saying women don’t usually get pregnant from rape because “the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down.” Thankfully, he stopped there, but the comment kicked up enough that controversy that it may cost Akin his bid for the Senate.

Todd Akin, Paul Ryan, and Clayton Williams

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, and former Texan gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams are among the public figures who have demonstrated their ignorance on the topic of rape. (AP; Getty; AP)

Unfortunately for women, that shockingly ignorant and offensive statement is just one more entry into the Rape Statement Hall of Shame. The Daily Beast presents seven more crazy ideas about rape that have been propagated by politicians and frat boys over the years. 

‘No Means Yes’
This condescending idea has always been a surefire sign of ignorance, but it took an even uglier turn last year when a group of pledges at the Yale chapter of the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon chanted it while marching around Old Campus, where most of the school’s freshman women reside. And since the original phrase apparently wasn’t offensive enough, they threw in this charming addendum: “Yes Means Anal.” Then they captured the whole thing on video, which their senior brethren probably catalogued in the fraternity’s library of shameless pledge events and hazing incidents, like when former George W. Bush branded a pledge with an know, just like they do on the farm.  

‘If It’s Inevitable, Just Enjoy It’
Rape, like a rainy day, can be perhaps some victims would do better to take it in stride. This particularly foul-weather analogy was made in 1990 by Clayton Williams, then Texas’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, in front of cowboys, campaign workers, and reporters during a cattle roundup on a foggy morning at his ranch in West Texas. Later that day he apologized “if anyone’s offended” by his extremely offensive joke before adding that a cattle roundup is “not a Republican women’s club” but “a tough world where you can get kicked in the testicles if you’re not careful.” Instead of worrying about taking a cow hoof to the crotch, perhaps Williams should just “relax and enjoy it.” 

Women Who Are Raped ‘Secrete a Certain Secretion’ 
In light of Akin’s gaffe, this one sounds familiar. Stephen Freind, then a Pennsylvania legislator, came out with a real doozy in 1988 during a radio interview when he said that the odds of a woman getting pregnant from being raped are “one in millions and millions and millions,” simply because the experience causes a woman “to secrete a certain secretion” that generally kills sperm. Freind stood by his claim—even though scientists negated it, with one joking that he’d use the magical “secretion” Freind refers to as a contraceptive if he could “find out what it was.” Freind went on to lose a 1992 Senate race, his last venture into state politics. 

There’s Rape, and Then There’s…‘Forcible Rape’ 
GOP veep candidate Paul Ryan should probably have consulted a dictionary before laying out the conditions for a No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which he cosponsored with Akin himself in 2011. The bill said taxpayer dollars could only go toward aborting pregnancies that resulted from “forcible rape”... apparently it’s important to distinguish between regular old rape and “forcible rape.” The meaning of the term was never clearly defined and ultimately removed from the bill. 

Marital Rape Could Be a ‘Legal Weapon’
A memo to all the ring-wearing ladies: your husband, that man with whom you exchanged the most sacred vows of love, can’t force himself upon you when you don’t want to have sex, according to some wingnuts. In 1991, Akin ultimately voted in favor of an anti-marital-rape law, but only after raising the issue of whether or not it would be misused, for example, “in a really messy divorce as a tool and a legal weapon to beat up on the husband.”


National GOP Pulls Akin's Funding

National GOP Pulls Akin's Funding Kevin Dietsch, UPI / Landov

Encourages him to quit Senate race.

Todd Akin may still be in the race to replace Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill but, as of Monday afternoon, he no longer has the financial backing of the national Republican party. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn let Akin know that they won't be spending any more money on him and that he's harming fellow Republican candidates by staying in the race. 

Read it at The Washington Post

Todd Akin

How Legitimate Was My Rape?

Tom Doran skewers Todd Akin with a sarcastic questionare for women seeking to determine the "legitimacy" of their rape. In the process, Doran lambasts Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame for ignoring the alleged sex crimes for which he is accused of in Sweden:

Does the perpetrator really, really hate the United States government?

If YES, congratulations! You weren't raped. In fact, I think it's rather impertinent of you to raise the question, don't you? Don't you know how many innocent people are being killed by drone strikes? Don't you know about Bradley Manning? Don't you know about all the other, much more reassuring subjects we could change this one to? Julian Assange is a visionary who speaks truth to power. He has bigger things on his mind. That's why, during his address from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy, he didn't mention you or your accusations once. Why are you so offended? I'm just saying you don't matter.

If NO, then tough luck. You were raped. Well, probably, but don't worry. Courts always take the side of the accuser, they're well-known for it. In fact, your chances of attaining a conviction are... Oh. Well, you really should have thought of that before being born a woman.

Good luck!

Abortion Extremist

Todd Akin Speaks for Many in GOP

The Missouri Senate candidate got in trouble for an outrageous claim about rape and pregnancy, but his extreme views on abortion are in line with those of many GOP legislators, including Paul Ryan, writes Michelle Goldberg.

According to a 1996 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 5 percent of rape victims of reproductive age will become pregnant, leading to a little more than 32,000 pregnancies in the United States each year. We have no way of knowing how many of these rapes would be considered by Rep. Todd Akin to be “legitimate.” We do know that the Missouri Senate candidate, like many high-profile Republicans, believes that in every case, the government should force the rape victims to carry their pregnancies to term.

Rep. Todd Akin

Rep. Todd Akin. (Kevin Dietsch, UPI / Landov)

Akin is currently in a lot of trouble for telling a local TV station on Sunday that women possess magical mechanisms for preventing conception when they’ve been attacked. “If it’s a legitimate rape,” he said, in words that have now echoed around the political world, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” The implication, of course, is that women who do get pregnant probably haven’t been really raped–it’s a barely updated version of the medieval conviction that women had to orgasm in order to conceive.

By Sunday afternoon, Akin had walked his comments back, saying, “"In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.” Even if we take him at his word that he did not mean to impugn pregnant rape victims, his outburst tells us a lot about the modern Republican party’s attitude toward women, and the difficulty conservative politicians have when forced to explain their absolutist anti-abortion politics to the general public.

After all, Akin’s willingness to voice ludicrous fantasies about female reproductive biology may be striking, but his policy position—that abortion should be banned even in cases of rape and incest—is quite common in today’s GOP. Indeed, it’s the position held by Paul Ryan, though the Mitt Romney campaign said on Sunday that a “Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.” Many of the speakers at next week’s Republican National Convention want to ban abortions for rape victims, including Rick Santorum, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Mike Huckabee. This spring, the Republican House blocked a bill that would allow female soldiers who’d been raped to use their insurance to pay for abortions. (Rape in the military isn’t an insignificant problem—according to the Defense Department, 875 rapes were reported in 2010, and the DOD estimates that 86 percent of sexual assaults went unreported.)

So while banning abortion for rape victims used to be an outré position among Republicans, now it’s become almost normative. Politicians who hold such views, however, haven’t come up with a good way to talk about them. Indeed, it’s not clear that they’re willing to grapple with the consequences of their beliefs themselves. The fiction that real victims don’t get pregnant—a notion whose absurdity should be obvious to anyone who has ever read about Serbian rape camps or the epidemic of sexual violence in Congo—allows them to elide the entire issue. Otherwise, they would have to say forthrightly that they believe that the state should subject women who’ve been raped to forced pregnancy.

Akin didn’t pull his crazy idea about women’s inborn ability to fend off rape pregnancies out of thin air. As Garance Franke-Ruta writes in The Atlantic, it’s a common anti-abortion canard, and one that Republicans have spouted before. If you Google “number of pregnancies annually resulting from rape,” one of the first results to come up is a 1999 article by John C. Willke, former president of the National Right to Life Committee, headlined, “Assault Rape Pregnancies Are Rare.” First, Willke argues that rape statistics are uncertain, because while some women don’t report rapes, others “pregnant from consensual intercourse, have later claimed rape.” Secondly, he continues, when women are actually raped, the trauma upsets their endocrine system in a way that prevents pregnancy. “To get and stay pregnant a woman's body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones. Hormone production is controlled by a part of the brain that is easily influenced by emotions. There's no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape.”

Buzzfeed’s Anna North has found several examples of Republicans making this claim over the last few decades. In 1988, Pennsylvania state Rep. Stephen Friend, a leading anti-abortion legislator, got in trouble for claiming that the trauma of rape causes women to "secrete a certain secretion" that kills sperm. In 1995, North Carolina state Rep. Henry Aldridge told the House Appropriations Committee, “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. Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever.”

Pro-Life Movement

How to End the Abortion Wars


Pro-life activist Lynn Jackson, with the group Bound for Life, protests in front of the U.S. Supreme Court November 30, 2005 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The same remorseless reasoning process that leads Todd Akin and other pro-lifers to oppose rape exceptions leads some exponents of abortion rights to equally bizarre outcomes.

If a pregnancy does not become a person until the moment the child has fully emerged from the mother's womb, then a lot of hideous things become permissible too, including abortions of babies fully capable of life on their own and the sex-selection abortion that has led Nobelist Amartya Sen to calculate that 100 million girls are missing in India and China.

Civilians in the abortion wars try to draw distinctions between cases where abortion becomes more wrong and where it becomes less wrong: yes up to 10 weeks, no thereafter; yes for serious birth defects, no for sex-selection; etc. They are groping for some modulation, some way to translate complicated moral intuitions into rules a society can live by. The belligerents in abortion wars disdain this search for compromise as mere equivocation, a flinching from deeper truths.

Yet the complexity of the abortion issue is also a deeper truth, and so too is the need for people of differing views to find a way to get along with each other.

I've suggested before that the history of the temperance movement might offer a precedent for the abortion debate: the attempt to ban alcohol was abandoned, even as drunkenness was radically reduced. Likewise, we see abortion rates in the U.S. declining, and pro-life sentiment rising—even as attempts to criminalize abortion provoke overwhelming backlash.

This could be a way forward: less logical, but more reasonable; a politics less of first principles, and more of common sense.


Romney: Akin ‘Inexcusable’

Romney: Akin ‘Inexcusable’ Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Distances himself from the Republican rep.

Let the damage control begin. Mitt Romney was quick to denounce Republican Rep. Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment, telling National Review Monday morning that Akin’s comments are “insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong.” As other Republicans squirmed over Akin’s embarrassing comment and feared it would cost them the majority in the Senate, Romney said that he and his campaign, “like millions of other Americans,” found the comments “offensive.” Akin said Sunday that pregnancies are rarely caused by “legitimate rape.” Romney assured National Review and everyone else appalled by the remarks that he has “an entirely different view” and that what Akin said was “entirely without merit.” Among others in Akin's own party disturbed by the remarks, Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown called on his fellow Republican to resign his nomination for Missouri's seat in the Senate. 

Read it at National Review

Rep. Todd Akin

Orlin Wagner / AP Photo

The word "moron" is being flung very freely at Todd Akin today, and it's not fair.

Akin, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri, just blew a big hole in his campaign by telling a TV interviewer that in cases of "legitimate rape," pregnancy hardly ever happens.

Akin was attempting to justify his view that abortion should be banned in nearly all cases. And yes, the use of the phrase "legitimate rape" suggests a certain lack of verbal nimbleness. Yet stupidity is not really the problem here.

Akin's view of abortion—no exception for rape, incest, and life of the mother—is not his belief alone. It is also the view of Rick Santorum, the second-place finisher in the 2012 Republican nomination contest. On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, it became the position of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. It is the stance of Ken Connor, former president of the Family Research Council. Plainly, it is the position of a significant faction within the pro-life movement.

Watch Akin's controversial comments.

And why not? If you believe that a pregnancy becomes a full human person at the very instant of conception, how can any of these exceptions make sense? Follow the hard logic of a strict pro-life position, and Akin's view is where you end up. If I discover that my next-door neighbor was born of incest, I cannot wander over and shoot him dead. We don't apply capital punishment even to the rapist; why should his innocent child pay for his crimes with its life? As for life of the mother, Akin explained his view on that issue well: he urged doctors to "optimize" life, ie, sometimes to choose the mother, but sometimes to choose the child when the child's life seems more optimal.

These views may be shocking, but they are not stupid. With implacable logic, they derive from first principles. If anything, the logic of these views is tighter than the logic that leads the pro-life majority to favor the rape, incest, and life of the mother exceptions.

The hard no-exceptions position is based also on a fairly shrewd reading of some administrative realities. Suppose we do ban abortion except in the named cases. A woman presents herself to her doctor requesting an abortion because she has been raped. How can the doctor know? The US justice system does not convict rapists and settle their appeals within the short span of nine months. The abortion will have to be conducted before the rape is proved. Which means that the doctor will have to decide whether to take the woman's word. And leaving the abortion decision up to women, or even up to women and their doctors, is precisely what is unacceptable to the pro-life movement.

Todd Akin: Paul Ryan's Buddy

"Legitimate Rape": An Old Right-Wing Trope

Todd Akin, the GOP Senate candidate in Missouri, did not come up with this idea of "legitimate rape" on his own. As Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic notes, it's been floating around in the mite-infested right-wing air since the 1980s. She cites some mentions going back as far as 1980 and then quotes from a 1999 paper by a right-wing physician who wrote:

 What is certainly one of the most important reasons why a rape victim rarely gets pregnant, and that's physical trauma. Every woman is aware that stress and emotional factors can alter her menstrual cycle. To get and stay pregnant a woman's body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones. Hormone production is controlled by a part of the brain that is easily influenced by emotions. There's no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape. This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy. So what further percentage reduction in pregnancy will this cause? No one knows, but this factor certainly cuts this last figure by at least 50 percent and probably more.

Wow. If you've been reading about this since yesterday, you've probably come across the figure of 32,000 pregnancies per year in the United States that result from rape. That figure is from this 1996 paper, by Holmes, et al., as they say in the academy, which was based on a three-year longitudinal survey.

I have to say that number astonished and sickened me. Are you telling me that 88 women a day, every day, are impregnated via rape? Jesus Mary and Joseph. This study found that the incidence of impregnation was around 5 percent. I read elsewhere that 1,870 women are raped every day in the land of the free. Do the math. The numbers check out. Holy crap. That's like war. We're living amidst a war. And what does Akin propose to do about it--and, for that matter, Paul Ryan?

My Beast colleague Michelle Goldberg was on this case in January 2011, writing about HR 3, the bill that sought to make a distinction between "forcible rape" and "statutory rape" for the purposes of providing redress to victims of the former but not the latter. Two of the original cosponsors? Akin and Ryan.

Will this remark put Ryan on the spot? It damn well better. How many of those 1,870 women raped every day does he think weren't really raped?

Akin: 'I Ask For Your Forgiveness'

In a new campaign ad released in Missouri, Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin tried to repair the seemingly irreparable comments he made on Sunday involving 'legitimate rape.'

  1. Rep. Todd Akin: 'Legitimate Rape' Doesn't Get You Pregnant Play

    Rep. Todd Akin: 'Legitimate Rape' Doesn't Get You Pregnant

  2. Piers Morgan: Akin a 'Gutless Little Twerp' Play

    Piers Morgan: Akin a 'Gutless Little Twerp'

  3. Clair McCaskill: Akin Hasn't Apologized! Play

    Clair McCaskill: Akin Hasn't Apologized!


He's Not the Only One

7 More Crazy Rape Statements

7 More Crazy Rape Statements

From Paul Ryan’s ‘forcible rape’ head-scratcher to a Yale frat’s ‘no means yes’ rally, more shocking examples of male ignorance.


Columnists Weigh In

How to End the Abortion Wars

How to End the Abortion Wars

Todd Akin: Paul Ryan's Buddy

"Legitimate Rape": An Old Right-Wing Trope

Pro-Life Movement

Akin's Abortion View: More Widespread in GOP Than You Think

Say What?

That's Not All

Todd Akin’s Craziest Comments

Todd Akin’s Craziest Comments

Todd Akin has a history of extreme statements. Watch his five most memorable.


Latest Todd Akin Updates

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