The media have been all atwitter with the news of congressman Todd Akin's (R-MO) radio interview where he claimed that a woman cannot get pregnant as a result of a "legitimate rape."
"If abortion could be considered in case of, say, a tubal pregnancy [which threatens the mother’s life], what about in the case of rape?" asked KTVI host Charles Jaco, in a clip that was disseminated by Talking Points Memo. "Should it be legal or not?"
"It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare,” Akin said, referring to conception following a rape. "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."
I haven't heard the expression before. Most of us know what constitutes rape and so does the law and it is never legitimate. So what was Akin thinking? I have a suspicion that for many men, rape occurs only if the victim is first beaten to a bloody pulp before she submits to non-consensual sex. If she is not brutalized during the process, rape could not have taken place. Why, the woman may have actually enjoyed the encounter or just changed her mind about consent after the fact.
Congressman Akin is among many others on the right who oppose abortion under most circumstances, including rape and incest. Some of them suspect that women seeking to end unwanted pregnancies will cry rape if that constitutes legal grounds for abortion. So in order to leave rape out of the abortion debate it would be convenient if it can be proved "scientifically" that a woman cannot get pregnant as a result of rape. (Incidentally, Akin is a member of the House science commitee. That should give us pause)
The Republican Party (even its Tea Party wing) is sufficiently embarrassed by Akin's "gaffe" to demand that he pull out of his senate race against Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). I wonder why the GOP is acting with such alacrity. After all, it is not the first time that a right wing politician has opposed the exemption for rape when legislating abortion laws or made flippant and ignorant remarks about it. It is widely believed that the Republicans fear that Akin's opinions if aired in the media for long will also shed light on Romney's running mate Paul Ryan's views on rape and abortion. Ryan has worked closely with Akin in the House to co-sponsor an anti-abortion bill. Only in that bill, the expression was "forced rape." Well, I guess we can now legitimatley ask Ryan what the definition of "voluntary rape" is.