Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Akin's Idiocy

You'd have to try moderately hard to come up with a dumber and more insensitive comment than Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican Senate nominee from Missouri, made the other day. Asked why he opposed abortion even in cases or rape, he responded:
It seems to me, 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: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.
As best as one can guess from Akin's statements (which he has apologized for since the firestorm they kicked up) his beliefs about the issue may have been inspired by studies showing that extreme emotional or physical stress can cause delayed ovulation. Thus a woman who was raped when she was otherwise about to ovulate might not ovulate on time, and thus not conceive.

The first big problem in Akin's thinking appears to have been the result of wishful thinking that is depressingly common. Having read that conception might be less likely after a sexual assault than after normal sexual intercourse, he seems to have wishfully extended this out to be virtually always the case. Akin, like other serious pro-lifers, opposes abortion even in cases of rape. However he seemingly does not want to deal with the fact that opposing one clear evil (killing an unborn child) may leave a woman who has already had her body assaulted by a rapist also unwillingly pregnant. Rather than dealing with the fact that doing the right thing often does not make us happy, he apparently wishes the problem away.

In the process, he adds insult to injury, since his words distinguish "legitimate rape" (from which he believes pregnancy virtually never results) from... Well, he doesn't say what, but the implication is clearly that he's distinguishing between a "real rape" and some sort of rape that the victim didn't actually mind all that much. Since he has magically turned less likely to almost never, the implication (one hopes unintentional) is that if a woman gets pregnant as a result of a rape, she probably didn't really mind being raped -- in other words, it wasn't really a rape.

It doesn't take any imagination to figure out why this is a very offensive implication.

When someone says something this dumb and offensive, its easy to pile on, but difficult to say anything constructive. Rebecca Kiessling provides some fairly calm and thoughtful analysis over at LifeNews. In addition tackling Akin's comments, she deals with some of the other misguidedly sunny attempts pro-lifers have made to address the issue:

The pro-life attorney says pro-life candidates need to be coached on how to answer the media’s inevitable question.

“Senator Rick Santorum, during his presidential campaign, said that he thinks that a child conceived in rape is “a gift from God,” and he was made fun of for that. Just Google images for “Santorum rape” and you’ll see all of the posters where he is mocked for this statement. While I believe it’s true that every child is a gift from God, including children conceived in rape, I don’t believe this was the best response for the interview,” she explained. “If it had been my birthmother sharing that she believes that I’m a blessing and a gift from God, she would not be mocked and ridiculed in the same way he was. And then Sharron Angle, during her Senate race in Nevada, said it’s a “lemonade situation,” which did not come across well at all. The problem is not with these candidates’ values. The problem is how they express them.”

Kiessling provides some somewhat better talking points for politicians to use, though they remain very much what they are: talking points.

My own thought is that we as Americans find these kinds of moral issues very difficult because we have no tragic sense: we labor under the illusion that doing the right thing means that bad things won't happen to you, or that if misfortune comes, doing the right thing will necessarily lessen our suffering right away. Often it doesn't.


Melanie Bettinelli said...

I like what you say about the missing tragic sense. That sounds dead-on to me.

Pentimento said...

What Melanie said. That is the crux of the matter.

bearing said...

Yup. I may steal it as my all-purpose sound bite to distribute into everyone's comments.

Jenny said...

FWIW, I think by legitimate rape he meant it that wasn't statutory rape, but he phrased it terribly.

Americans are not comfortable at all with the idea of doing the right thing and still being unhappy. Our founding document states we have the right to pursue happiness, but, in our modern understanding, pursuing it is the same thing as having it.

Clare said...

Yes! Thank you for this but of clarity.

bearing said...

This lack of a tragic sense probably helps to explain why any proposed budget austerity measures can be effectively countered by "but that'll hurt."

Tony said...

They should have an answer ready.

"I don't believe a child should be punished for the crime of the father. We don't do it for any other crime, we should not do it for this."

Then the inevitable "but... but..."

"That is my answer, I'm not going to elaborate further. Please move along."