Akin is Not an Outlier – Republicans on Rape, Abortion, and Women’s Rights
You all have heard by now about Missouri Rep (and Senate candiate) Todd Akin‘s egregious comments on “legitimate rape” which included misinformation about rape and pregnancy that anyone with a high school biology experience should be able to refute.
There is now pressure for Akin to withdraw from the race because of these awful and misinformed comments, but don’t be fooled – Republicans aren’t urging him to drop out because they disagree with Akin’s extreme views on women, abortion, or rape.
There’s a saying (an ableist one) in the South that we don’t hide our crazy people, we put ‘em out on the front porch. The GOP right now is trying to get the most recent and obvious example of its anti-woman extremism off the front porch.
It’s not that they don’t *believe* what Akin said. It’s that they don’t want it to be so damn obvious in an election year.
Sure, there are lots of folks who are strongly anti-abortion. But when you take into consideration that something like 1 in 4 or 1 in 6 women will be raped, and 1 in 3 women will have abortions in their lifetime (and 60% of those will already be mothers), you’re talking about a large swath of the electorate for whom it’s not hypothetical that they might one day be raped and/or need an abortion.
It’s easy enough for anti-choice women to be down with the social conservatives when the focus is on preventing those irresponsible young poor women (of color, for bonus points) from making their own decisions about their bodies. After all, they do have their own abortions even so, as many a clinic worker will tell you about seeing protestors turn patient, and as abortion tracking statistics will tell you about how many abortions are had by women from strongly socially conservative religions. But when it becomes obvious that the real view is not just “control other people I don’t like” but “control me, and suggest that there might be forms of my getting raped that you’re okay with?” Nuh uh.
These women now, as well as the men who care about them, might be somewhat satisfied by seeing Akin drop out of the Missouri race, if that happens. It might make them feel a little less uncomfortable, that the most extreme beliefs are being weeded out, and what remains is more sensible and compassionate.
Unfortunately, that is not at all true – perspectives like those illustrated by Akin are widespread and largely acceptable within a party that relies on extremes of social conservatism to motivate voters.
The bottom line is that these profoundly anti-woman beliefs are not new, and not even remotely publicly disavowed by Republicans, for the most part. And they have been promoted by social conservatives over and over. They were there when the GOP waited until there was a public outcry before removing the (Ryan-cosponsored) “forcible” rape lanaguage from a bill. They were there when the social conservatives (including, again, co-sponsor Ryan) tried to define life as beginning at fertilization, which would outlaw abortion along with potentially some forms of birth control and fertility treatments, could open women to legal scrutiny to be criminalized for having miscarriages, and which has no basis whatsover in biological or medical fact. That idea was too radical *for Mississippi.*
They were there when the George W. Bush-appointed head of Health and Human Services repeatedly and deliberately misrepresented a “conscience” rule that also could have defined a fertilized-but-not-implanted egg as a person and some forms of contraception as abortion. The HHS/Leavitt thing happened in 2008 – evidence that these attitudes have been acceptable at high levels of government with Republican support for quite a while now.
And that’s without even discussing how frequently GOP-backed candidates completely, utterly fail at understanding science and medical evidence before trying to use it against people, because that would take all week.
So what’s the net result if Akin drops out? On the surface it seems like a win for reproductive rights advocates and women, and it lets the GOP look like they’re not really so extreme on women’s autonomy over their own bodies. It doesn’t, at all, root out and eliminate the very attitudes Akin is expressing that still remain in a draft GOP platform that is expected to support forced ultrasound laws and call for a Constitutional amendment against abortion and making no exemptions for rape or incest.
Akin is not an outlier. Pressuring him to resign doesn’t eliminate the worst, most extreme anti-women attitudes of the Republican party – it just keeps the extremism off the front porch.
Want more? See this previous post for further discussion of why fertilized eggs should *not* be treated as pregnancies/persons, and Jodi Jacobson’s post at RHRC, Is It Really Best for Women If Akin Withdraws? Questions About a Defining Moment.