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Todd Akin, a Republican running for Congress in Missouri, recently said that according to his knowledge as he’d heard it from doctors, the female body has ways to shut down a pregnancy if a rape wasn’t ‘legitimate.’ His comments have raised a national outcry, and have been widely condemned, with many Democrats, media sources and even President Barack Obama criticizing his statements.
As the public outfall became enormous, Akin later apologized for his comments, though it seems doubtful whether he’s seen any particular error in his ways beyond the risk of losing this election and ruining his career. The controversy has really hurt his chances, and his party has been trying to get Akin to step down as candidate, with even presidential candidate Mitt Romney decrying Akin’s comments.
Akin insists that he’ll keep on running and won’t step down; while he apologized for his particular comments, he has also stuck to his platform on outlawing abortion even in the case of rape, and refuses to apologize for his political stance. The latest polls have Akin dropping in the Missouri polls and he is currently on the same level as McCaskill.
Akin, the current US Representative for Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District, is running for the Senate seat of incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, and had been leading in the latest polls before he made the aforementioned comments. McCaskill’s Senate seat was considered one of the more vulnerable seats for the GOP to target in an attempt to win a Senate majority in the upcoming 2012 Congressional elections, but Akin’s comments have thrown a harsh spotlight on his candidacy and rightfully raised questions about his suitability to represent the people.
Akin’s competency for his position on the House Science and Technology Committee has also been legitimately questioned in the wake of these comments, which demonstrate a lack of basic understanding of science and human biology- rape trauma provides no barrier to pregnancy and over 32,000 pregnancies from rape occur each year in the US.
On a more ideological level, the consistent opposition to women’s rights and autonomy that provided the context behind his statements are troubling to many potential voters, as is the implication that there is such a thing as not-actual or not-legitimate rape and the implication that if someone got pregnant they couldn’t actually have been raped.
It is unprofessional for a politician to not recognize that rape is rape and the fact that most rapes are not actually a “stranger jumping out of the bushes” but is often carried out by those in a position of trust; date rape, pushing yourself onto someone who is too drunk to fight back or asleep or unable to fairly consent, forcing or coercing a wife or girlfriend or close friend into sex is all still rape.
By the disturbing implication of a difference between ‘legitimate’ and such a thing as not actual rape he is invalidating the trauma that many people who’ve gone through rape have felt. This is a dangerous belief for an elected lawmaker, who would be involved in the creation of laws affecting women including rape victims and those at risk of rape, to hold.
This belief seems to come from a very old superstition that a woman couldn’t get pregnant if they didn’t have an orgasm, and that if they had an orgasm they liked it and that it thus wasn’t actually rape- a superstition that is very wrong on both counts. Even in this day and age, this belief is apparently widespread enough for Planned Parenthood to have to include it in the FAQ for their website.
While the Republican Party has tried to distance itself from Akin’s comments and put major pressure on him to step down from the Senate race, it is important to note that the GOP platform for their party convention in Tampa wouldn’t include abortion exemptions even for rape or incest- essentially identical in policy to Todd Akin.
Ultimately, the controversy over the remarks have returned the spotlight to the issue of increasing measures against women’s liberties and the push towards further extreme social conservatism by the Republican establishment. The GOP’s efforts to replace Akin’s candidacy thus seems to be more an attempt to salvage a chance at winning a seat crucial for a Senate majority than an actual concession on intended policy.
This is only the latest in a series of words, actions and laws where male lawmakers have essentially tried to limit and tell women what they experience, feel, and what they should and should not be able to do with their lives and bodies.
Along with the partisan opposition to the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and provisions of the Healthcare law that would eliminate discriminatory pricing of health insurance to woman and allow women to get basic healthcare needs easier, the GOP and their candidates look set to be increasingly alienating women voters, a dangerous tactic for both the immediate upcoming elections and the long-term prospects of the party.