By Eugene Robinson
WASHINGTON — At least until Election Day, Republicans were supposed to pretend that their party’s alleged “war on women” was nothing but a paranoid fantasy stoked by desperate Democrats. Obviously, Rep. Todd Akin didn’t get the memo.
Akin, campaigning to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in November, was trying to explain his stance against abortion Sunday when he committed what cannot be dismissed as a mere gaffe. It was an abomination that could only stem from benighted ignorance — and it brings the whole “war on women” thing back into scary focus.
If you think I’m exaggerating, let me quote Akin in full. He was explaining why he opposes abortion even in cases of rape — and how pregnancy as a result of rape, in any event, isn’t something that should overly concern us:
“It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”
Let’s begin with the ignorant and offensive distinction Akin tries to draw between “legitimate rape” and some other kind of rape. He did not elaborate, but I’m pretty sure I know what he means.
He’s obviously talking about what Republicans call “forcible rape.” Last year, Akin co-sponsored a bill in the House that would have narrowed the exception that allows Medicaid funds to pay for abortions for women who are raped. The proposed measure would have permitted the use of funds only to end pregnancies resulting from “forcible rape.” GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was another co-sponsor of the measure, which ultimately failed.
The statutory rape of a child by an adult would not fit the definition the House Republicans tried to impose; nor would the rape of a woman who was drugged, say, or who had limited mental capacity. Never mind the fact that as far as criminal law is concerned, rape is rape. Never mind the fact that all rape, by its very nature, is “forcible.”
Akin’s assertion about “legitimate” rape is really nothing but an attempt to blame the victim. It stems from the view that the only true victim is a woman who is raped while violently resisting a ski-masked assailant who came in through the bedroom window. Anything short of that, she must have been asking for it.
Now let’s examine Akin’s claim about what “doctors” have told him. Are these real doctors? Did they actually go to medical school?
I find it hard to believe that any physician told Akin that “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” I think he made it up.
That “female body” line is not only a frightening glimpse at the dangerous nonsense rattling around inside the heads of some on the far, far right. It is also — in its sheer befuddled clueless anatomical ignorance — an illustration of why we need more women in public office. When Akin says “ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” what exactly does he mean? What does he envision happening inside that mysterious, unknowable realm? Is it sorcery? Witchcraft?
Akin, by the way, is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. I am not kidding.
Akin allows that sometimes the magical process by which rapists’ sperm are rejected doesn’t work. In those few cases, he says, our aim should be punishing the rapist, not “attacking the child.”
Now let’s see, we’ve accounted for how we should treat the rapist, and we’ve accounted for how we should treat the product of the rape — the fetus or unborn child, depending on how you see abortion — and I guess that’s it. But wait, wasn’t there someone else involved?
Oh yes, the woman. The person who had to endure the rape, who is suspected of not having suffered a “legitimate” rape, and who now, according to Akin, should be legally obliged to bring the rapist’s baby to term.
Akin’s stupid, sexist remarks were immediately denounced by Mitt Romney and other prominent Republicans.
But the GOP refuses to do the one thing that would neutralize the “war on women” issue: Stop the misogynistic attacks. Stop them now.
Eugene Robinson is a Washington Post columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.