The Republican Party’s legitimate difficulties with Todd Akin, part 2
What Todd Akin did, with his ill-timed comments, was to illuminate
1) the draconian hard-right stand against abortions. This is the no-exceptions position that would prevent terminating a pregnancy for an eleven-year-old girl sexually abused by her stepfather. (The medical case just referred to is not hypothetical. It occurred in Texas. It never became a dispute over abortion. )The no-exceptions position would compel a woman or girl to carry a fetus to term even if the fetus were anencephalic.
2) the superficiality of Republican establishment support of such positions.
Let’s put this simply: Most top GOPers do not support these positions. But while quietly opposing them, the top echelon of the Republican Party continues to entice the vote and the financial contributions of party faithful who hold them.
I have written about the broader topic before, as in 2006 posts on Tucker Carlson of all people. Like Akin, whom he does not much otherwise resemble, Carlson came out with some inconveniently candid remarks at a particularly inopportune moment. Carlson, a Republican commentator who later appeared on Dancing with the Stars, voiced on television the key political fact that the Christian right tends to be used and abused by the power structure it keeps in office.
Things haven’t changed much, in that respect, since 2006. Look at the party establishment’s reaction to Akin.
As everyone not living under a rock knows, Rep. Todd Akin (R), challenging Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) in Missouri, gave a remarkable interview on August 19. Here is the video of the interview, on Fox.
Here is Akin, on abortion in cases of sexual assault:
“Well you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, 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. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
There are two prongs to the difficulty Akin’s statements have caused the GOP. One is the false science, the other is the genuine belief. As I previously wrote, the genuine belief is what is giving the Republican Party so much heartburn.
But the GOP also has its vulnerabilities on the false science.
Again, I do not question Akin’s sincerity. But it is incumbent on rational people to correct errors of fact when they arise, especially when they are widely disseminated and when they support disastrous public policy. Remember Iraqi WMD?
The mystery is not how Akin, or anyone, could form such a notion in the first place, that is, the notion that a raped woman’s body wards off pregnancy. As with other wishful beliefs, the wishful belief that a sexually assaulted woman has innate defenses against pregnancy is underpinned by a few grains of truth. Stress and anxiety can deter pregnancy, even in women who want to conceive and who are trying to become pregnant. (Hence the lucrative explosion in the reproduction industry of fertility clinics and the like.) Injury can interfere with becoming pregnant and can cause miscarriage. Each subsection of this unhappy topic has generated extensive medical scholarship.
On a more cheerful note, studies have shown that most rapists suffer some form of sexual dysfunction. (This is one reason why ‘castration’ does not work as a tool of public policy against sexual assault.)
The more puzzling question is not how Akin formed a wrong notion about conception in the first place but how he, or any literate person 65 years old, could have retained such a notion. Actually, that’s easy to answer: Like any fellow human being who adopts a wrong belief, Akin just never checked his in any meaningful way. He opposes terminating a pregnancy even in cases of rape. His position is obviously painful even for him. So he just adopted the version of science that gave him most comfort. And he never course-corrected, intellectually speaking, even when news reports brought evidence of thousands of Albanian women pregnant after the attacks on Kosovo.
How long did it take Congressman Akin to correct his previous mistake, once it was emphatically brought to his attention? –About two days.
Here is Akin’s own statement on the interview from his web site, posted August 19, the day of the interview. Note that he does not clarify or retract the false science in his morning comments:
“As a member of Congress, I believe that working to protect the most vulnerable in our society is one of my most important responsibilities, and that includes protecting both the unborn and victims of sexual assault. 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. Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve.
“I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action. I also recognize that there are those who, like my opponent, support abortion and I understand I may not have their support in this election.”
A day later, Akin took a somewhat less firm line by failing to show up at CNN to be interviewed by host Piers Morgan. Morgan avenged himself by satirically positioning an empty chair on set, castigating Akin in absentia.
By the way, Clint Eastwood may deserve everything he’s gotten in response to his bizarre performance at the Republican National Convention. No one seems to have noticed, however, that Eastwood’s empty-chair routine was surely Eastwood’s idea of a tit-for-tat on the Akin controversy. Now we know that Clint Eastwood, or someone in his household, watches Piers Morgan.
It’s a safe guess that Eastwood, like most top Republicans, was also chafing at hearing about Todd Akin.
Back to Akin–the following day, he issued his public apology on YouTube, including the statement, “The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy.”
“Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize. As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault, and I pray for them. The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The truth is, rape has many victims. The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.”
Akin has also rightly observed that “the entire [Republican] establishment” turned on him.
Certainly a number of prominent GOP politicians and commentators have condemned Akin’s version of medical science. They’re not out of the woods yet, though. For one thing, that kind of rational criticism tends to be a bit of an uphill climb for them.
The Republican Party, after all, is still the major party dug in about, opposing science on,
- climate change
- greenhouse gases
- tobacco use as a cause for cancer
- environmental factors as causes for cancer and other diseases
- occupational safety as a factor in health, e.g. in mining
- the relationship between highway speed and highway fatalities
- the relationship between driver age and highway safety
- the connection between ‘fracking’ and earthquakes
Additionally the GOP has shown itself, shall we say, reluctant to leave intact any kind of regulation that science indicates would boost the safety of the water we drink, the air we breathe and the soil in which we grow food. Congressional Republicans, always fighting from the rear on issues of public safety and public health, even tried unsuccessfully to prevent public disclosure of unsafe consumer products, a reform pushed by the Obama administration.
For related reasons, the same faction is also fighting to the political death to prevent public disclosure of abuses in the financial sector.
On August 21, Akin told Sean Hannity that Mitt Romney was exploiting the “legitimate rape” issue. Akin had a point. Akin’s gaffe highlights the contrast between the hard-nosed, practical, get-it-done business type Romney wishes to be thought, and the views Romney panders to among non-one-percenters he induces to vote for him.