The outrage with Representative Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape” may be right, but misses the essential point, as does his apology. I think one of the clearest and more poignantly on point commentaries on the matter is Meghan Daum’s in Los Angeles Times, because the issue is, actually, that clear: is abortion legal or not? Period.
Akin, in his tamed apology admits, mercifully, that rape is an evil act. Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney – the order was not accidental – now say that rape is rape. So does Obama, actually.
To be fair, I believe it is unfair to blame Akin for expressing his real feelings and those of the Republican Party, as its 2012 Platform makes quite clear.
Akin used “legitimate” in the casual, colloquial sense we may use the term to express bona fides. He meant “real” rape, “actual” rape; it was just a wrong turn of a phrase because the word legitimate sounds quite illegitimate in this context. But he did not mean some rapes are legitimate. He meant that all abortions are illegitimate and should be illegal. He meant some of the acts our society has codified as rape are “truly” rape – when the woman ends up black and blue and the vaginal tearing is comparable to delivering a baby elephant – and others, say, the statutory kind, when a 13 year old is softly led to bed by her father who strokes her gently and foolishly – and brutally, while not forcible – impregnates her – are not rape.
What Akin meant makes perfect sense in his mindset: they – he, Ryan, this year’s Romney, the Family Research Council, and other extremists who now have orphaned Akin in order to conquer the White House via rational independent voters slightly too attached to the XXI Century – they actually believe abortion should be illegal under all circumstances. No exceptions. Period. They have settled to inch into that by taking the exceptions away. Ryan, as much as Akin has been in favor of legislation that uses the term “forcible” rape. It may just as well say legitimate rape. There is no real difference. (The Family Research Council has maintained its support of Akin.)
Nobody has accused Republicans because of the internal coherence of their arguments – life is absolute, but the death penalty is just fine; government should have no say in our lives, except to forbid the marriage of same-sex consenting adults. In this case, 15-year-old girls need parental permission to have an abortion because they are not mature enough for such decision; but statutory rape is a fallacy, which means that girl essentially consented to it. Minors are so to stop the results of sex abuse; but no to be sexually abused, since that would not be considered rape.
Let’s give for a split second credence to the laughable idea that the woman’s body is capable of stopping pregnancy if she is being raped, except, as Akin says, in very rare cases. So, what are we saying then? That those rare cases are out of luck? Or are we going to be that specific in the legislation? “If you are lucky enough to be forcibly raped, but unlucky enough for your body to succumb to the path of pregnancy, we may exceptionally concede to allow you to abort the God-given – if less than kindly delivered – fruits of your rape.” Yes, I know it sounds grotesque, but that is exactly what those qualifications of rape mean.
While it may cost him a great deal, Akin was not going that far off script. He was providing Republican followers the pseudoscientific ammunition to justify their already fanatical and obtuse beliefs. In fact, in defending him, the spokeswoman from the Family Research Council kept saying she can’t speak to the science because she doesn’t know it; but also casually mentioned that she had heard from a couple of doctors telling her that Akin’s science was right on.