So Facebook, HuffingtonPost, and Jezebel blew up this morning thanks to yet another sorry chapter in the apparent war on women by this country’s right wing. Take it way, Senatorial candidate Todd Akin!
From what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut the whole thing down.”
Well that’s bad.
Akin pretty quickly claimed he “misspoke”, which is politico-speak for “I said something that I sincerely believe, but am not supposed to say in public.”
So this is going to dominate the news cycle at least for a few days. With any luck the reaction will be pretty unanimously “Todd Akin is pretty horrible.” Akin sees his fundraising drops, and this becomes an even more explosive version of George Allen’s “macaca” outburst from a few years, which basically sank his reelection campaign in Virginia. Though I am very much afraid we might see the other possibility where members of the right wing try desperately to find some way that this all justified.
You know this game by now. Fox News has some fake-ass doctor to tell us about the magic uterus. A couple angry old white guys turn this into a rape apology-fest, and we end up having an extensive debate over what constitutes “legitimate rape” and “illegitimate rape.” And Reddit! Oh dear God, the Reddit!
Basically, brace yourselves! The “rape debate” is coming!
There’s so many parts of Akin that is pretty horrifying on this issue. As Jezebel pointed out, Akin has said some pretty horrific things on this issue before. But there’s something else at play here that really we should all be terrified about. You see, Akin’s quote above is just one of the most egregious examples of the bizarre and horrifying alternative reality much of the far right has built around themselves.
You see, right now, everyone is horrified that someone really plans to spend time distinguishing between legitimate rape and illegitimate rape. I’m going to put that aside for half a second, though, and focus on that first part. The part where some doctor suggested to Akin that ladyeggs know that the sperm that’s floating around is just not welcome and close up shop. Let that sink in for a second. Someone claiming to have a medical degree told Akin this, or at least so Akin claims.
Akin’s Senate website mentions nothing about, say, creationism or sex education. He hasn’t actively discussed global warming, though he does want to put more investment into “domestic energy sources.” He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut the deficit, while never dealing with the fact that the Affordable Care Act DOES cut the deficit. (And the public option or Medicare-for-all would have cut the deficit even more.)
Here’s my larger point. There are a multitude of issues on which conservatives, progressives, libertarians, socialists, anarchists, and everyone else can have reasonable, evidence and logic-based arguments. That includes the morality of abortion, by the way. The problem is so much of the conservative ideology as it is currently defined is dedicated to actively denying objective reality. Conservatives have created their own scientific consensus on so many issues so that they can reject the current scientific consensus. Hence, climate change becomes some fake thing pushed by the scientific elite to get government grants. Sex becomes a thing that can quite literally give you AIDS the instant you have it. Birth control becomes a thing you use exclusively for sex as opposed to any number of health care problems. The budget deficit becomes something you can cut by simultaneously cutting taxes and de-funding… NPR and Planned Parenthood, apparently. TEH GAY COMMUNO-FASCIST MUSLIMS ARE EVERYWHERE IN OUR GOVERNMENT AND THEY’RE CROSSING THE BORDER TO TAKE OUR FREEDOMS!
Now I would bet if you profiled Akin, he probably believes a fair percentage of the things listed above. Or at the very least he is willing to make like he does for his constituents. And by the way, he’s been successful at it. Dude has held some form of political office since 1990, and has been in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2001. This is the first time his views have received national exposure, but if we were to dig deep into his record, I am certain we would find a paper trail of absurd and horrific statements. Because if you believe as a matter of science that a woman can just instinctively prevent an unwanted pregnancy, then that’s not just one isolated mistaken or irrational opinion. That suggests a whole worldview that is built around non-science and fake facts. The person who has convinced themselves that a magic uterus exists simply cannot be trusted for rational thinking of any sort.
And that’s what won’t get discussed when we talk about Akin: his ability to so casually reject objective reality should disqualify from public office in the minds of voters. Yet even after this plays itself out, you can be rest assured that large swaths of voters will still vote for the guy, either out of party loyalty or unawareness of what he said or sincere belief. And that’s a scary thought.
Now if you happen to be a Missouri reader, I’m not going to urge you to vote for Claire McCaskill, the Democrat running for reelection in Missouri. From my vantage point, she’s still a fairly conservative Democrat, though deserves credit for voting to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and for leading the drive to raise the minimum wage when she first entered office. Whatever candidate you choose, though, please pick one that at least seems to embrace objective reality for everything that it is. There’s no way forward otherwise.
UPDATE: So as I suspected, there are some pseudo-doctors that have gone out of their way to back up Akin’s views. Here’s a quote from a study drafted by an actual doctor of medicine. Like, someone whose a member of the American Medical Association and everything! See if you can identify what is so horribly twisted in his logic here.
Finally, factor in 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. If we use the 50 percent figure, we have a final figure of 225 (or 370) women pregnant each year. These numbers closely match the 200 that have been documented in clinical studies.
Notice it, too?
There’s a lot of crazy here, but the part that really should drive you crazy is this:
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.
So do those crazy lady hormones reduce pregnancy. We don’t know, but without doing any research, we can, like, totally guess at it. SCIENCE!
This type of scientific report would have been an absolute failure as a high school lab report, but because the pro-life movement desperately needs research to confirm their worldview, they are willing to give this “doctor” a pedestal (his name is John C. Willke, and don’t worry, he’s not a practicing physician anymore) to tout totally phony research.
Now this is a controversial point of view, but I totally get why people would hold the position that abortion even in the case of rape should still be illegal. Really, I get it, and I think the argument is valid, even if I believe it’s wrong. That’s a strong moral position, and if you believe that life begins at conception, then it’s a logical one to hold. But if that’s your view, then guess what? You have to deal with the horrifying implications of that stance. You can’t just create an alternate reality around yourself where raped women don’t get pregnant, and if they do, then it’s “illegitimate rape”, and those women don’t deserve our sympathy. That’s the world view of someone who is, in essence, a coward. And it’s a world view that disempowers women, shames rape victims, and furthers rape culture. If you want that view, you’d better square it with reality, or you really should have no place in the public square.
By the way, here’s a peer-reviewed study by the National Library of Medicine, which suggests that rape-related pregnancies occur at roughly the same rate as non-rape pregnancies.