Before yesterday, I suspect most people outside Missouri had never heard of Representative Todd Akin. I barely recognized the name myself, even though I consider myself a bit of a political junkie and I currently live in the neighboring state. All I really knew is that he was beating Senator Claire McCaskill pretty handily in her re-election bid, and that the Democrats were likely to lose that seat come November. But then he said something more ridiculous than normal.
I saw the headline on Talking Points Memo and had to read it twice to believe it.
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
The response has been swift. President Obama held an impromptu press conference during which he said “Rape is rape, and 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 and certainly doesn’t make sense to me.”
Mother Jones points out that not only did Akins get the science wrong, he’s far from the only member of the Republican party to do so. Iowa Representative Steve King, better known for immigrant and Muslim-bashing than for his stance on abortion, said he’d never heard of a girl getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest. His office later clarified his statement to say that King knew no one personally who’d been in that situation.
The Republican Presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, released a statement criticizing Akin’s comment, but it should be noted that Romney’s statement is in contradiction to his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan’s position on abortion. In fact, Akins, Ryan and King were all co-sponsors of a bill introduced earlier this year that would have limited the rape exception for Medicaid recipients to victims of “forcible rape.”
Akins is also receiving support from conservative groups. Bryan Fischer of the AmericanFamily Association doubled down on Akins’ claim, and former child star (and banana creationist) Kirk Cameron also backed Akins’ statement. And former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee also defended Akins, and offered Akins time on his radio show to announce that he was staying in the race for the Senate.
Amanda Marcotte, writing for Slate, points out that rape exceptions don’t actually work, unless the goal is to actually stop rape victims from getting abortions and still have political cover for it.
Also, it’s not like Akins (or King, or Ryan) is out of the mainstream of Republican thought when it comes to abortion. The Republican party is adopting its official platform right now and includes “support for a ‘human life amendment’ to the Constitution that would outlaw abortion without making explicit exemptions for rape or incest.’” This language is very similar to the platforms that have been adopted by Republicans in every presidential election year since 2000.
It should also be noted that such an amendment would potentially make many forms of birth control, as well as fertility treatments like IVF, illegal.
Finally, I found this image on the website Balloon Juice yesterday. Akins is a member of the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.