Todd Akin’s ‘Legitimate Rape’ Claim a Peek Behind Anti-Abortion Curtain

His misogynist claptrap has spread among abortion opponents for ages. Kirsten Powers on his Kinsley gaffe.

Orlin Wagner / AP Photo

“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.”

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.

As Garance Franke-Ruta notes at The Atlantic, Akin is far from the only anti-abortion rights politician to wax ineloquent about female biology to support his views. She writes, “In 1995, 71-year-old North Carolina state Rep. Henry Aldridge gained national notoriety after telling the N.C. 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.’”

Ezra Klein points to former Pennsylvania state Rep. Stephen Freind (R) as another proponent of the claim that women’s bodies can enact voodoo on unwanted sperm, arguing once that the trauma of rape causes women to “secrete a certain secretion which has the tendency to kill sperm.”


If you doubt that Akin gave a peek behind the curtain, look no further than the fact that the influential Family Research Council has come forth to unequivocally defend the indefensible. “We support him fully and completely,” said FRC Action PAC president Connie Mackey, who then blamed the whole affair on “gotcha politics.” So somehow liberals are responsible for Akin going on television and claiming there is something called “legitimate rape.”

Meanwhile, Republicans who recognize how toxic the Akin claim is to the party brand have rushed to denounce him. Mitt Romney blasted him in a statement. National Review and Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown have called for him to drop out of the Missouri Senate race.

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Let’s all hope he takes their advice. Missouri deserves a legitimate senator.