Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Phony Distractions? 'Legitimate' Rape and Personhood

Phony Distractions?  ‘Legitimate’ Rape and Personhood

Today’s news is bursting with comments about and condemnations of Missouri Republican Senate Candidate Todd Akin’s opinions about how, in cases of ‘legitimate rape,’ women’s bodies produce mysterious abortificants that prevent pregnancy.  And that if these magic, unknown-to-science secretions fail to work, either the rape was not ‘legitimate’  (I guess that the woman really solicited or wanted or enjoyed the attack, and/or she wasn’t beaten senseless) or . . . too bad, the rape-engendered zygote should not be ‘punished’ in any event.

Almost anyone who might read this blog knows this, and has followed the Republican stampede to distance the party from Akin’s stunningly ignorant remarks.  Thus what I’d like to discuss is not the (probably soon-to-be ‘former’) Senate Candidate’s remarks per se but the timorous spin being put on them not only by most Republicans but also by the media at large.

The Republican establishment, including Candidate Romney, have scurried about trying to separate themselves from Akin’s remarks, suggesting that they’re an unfortunate distraction and that very few people agree with the Missouri Senator wanna-be’s views.  Most media commentary has followed suit, at least for the first day after the remarks, commonly by focusing on how these distracting ‘extreme’ views may hurt down-ticket as well as up-ticket Republican prospects.

Distraction?  No way.  Akin’s ideas are just the latest in a mighty stream (in which justice has not rolled down) of Republican/Conservative/Tea Party pronouncements about women’s health and responsibility for their own bodies, which to most sane people {but not the Republican Party as currently constituted) include at least some small measure of reproductive choice, particularly in dire circumstances. 

Thus Akin is not a ’distraction.’  He is a particularly obnoxious and frightening example of what now is mainstream Republican thought about women, their bodies, and their progeny . . . and of not-to-be-disputed male prerogative over women.

We should not forget that Akin and Paul Ryan cosponsored a Federal ‘Personhood Act’ (every fertilized egg is a person, and therefore interfering with its growth is an act of murder), and they both supported the bill that tried to redefine the ‘rape exception’ in the Hyde Amendment.  The original version of this bill, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” (H.R. 3), gave us the term “forcible rape” to specify the only sort of act that can cause an abortion-worthy pregnancy.  This language was expunged from the final version of the bill – but smuggled in through the back door via the addition that the bill will "not allow the Federal Government to subsidize abortions in cases of statutory rape." 

In other words:  same thing.  Statutory rape = non-forcible rape = not rape at all.

What’s the difference between Akin’s “legitimate” rape and the House Bill (supported by all Republicans) terminology of “forcible” rape (then finessed into non-statutory [that would be forcible, I believe])?

There’s another link.  Far right-wingers have been promoting the 18th-century idea of virtuous female trauma acting as spontaneous birth control for years and years.  Example:  in 1995, a North Carolina Republican State Representative claimed,   "The facts show that people who are raped -- who are truly raped -- the juices don't flow, the body functions don't work and they don't get pregnant. Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever."  Another example:  in 1988, a Pennsylvania Republican State Representative stated that the odds a raped woman will get pregnant “are one in millions and millions and millions” because the rape causes a woman “to secrete a certain secretion” that’s evidently extremely unfriendly to sperm. As recently as 2003, Georgia Republican Don Thomas put it quite succinctly: “Women don’t get pregnant through rape.”

Here’s the logic:  if really truly forcibly legitimately raped women can’t get pregnant, then it’s OK to allow abortions in these cases – because there won’t be any!  All one has to do is ban abortions for ‘non-forcible,’ ‘illegitimate,’ ‘false’ (Akin’s latest offering, as of August 21), or plain old statutory rape, and abortion will be gone for good.

This is the rationale between so many of the Republican-sponsored bills attempting to curtail abortion, both on state and national levels.  It’s a rationale that Paul Ryan supports, if his voting record tells us anything about how he thinks. 

In light of the party’s record, Republican claims that Akin is a ‘distraction’ are just as infuriating as are Akin’s comments.  Distraction from what?  The current Republican Party’s actual views about women’s health issues, which have been massively in synch with Todd Akin’s ideas? 

Trying to explain women’s supernatural ability to prevent conception when, evidently, the sexual act was not in some measure agreed upon, Todd Akin said:  The female body has ways to try to shut that down.”


The female body politic has ways to shut down misogynistic, stupid, and harmful public policy.  It’s called voting.  It’s called widening the gender gap so that no knuckle-dragging (right on for once, John Boehner!) candidates are elected.  It includes valuing ourselves, our daughters, our daughters-in-law, our granddaughters  . . . valuing all women’s full ‘personhood.’  Yes, even valuing our own mental and physical health over that of a few-days’-existent conglomeration of cells. And in addition, valuing the fact that we who’ve experienced the excruciating event of a rape, either inflicted on us or on loved ones, know that male-legislated slicings-and-dicings of what ‘rape’ means are unspeakably upsetting. 

All women [and maybe even most, or at least some, men] understand when ‘rape’ is ‘rape.’  Gun to the head, knife to the throat, trapped in a small space by a much larger male . . . and also, from another perspective, being too young to understand what’s happening, complying to save oneself from what seems like certain catastrophic harm, or not being able to do much of anything because one’s faculties have been compromised . . . it’s all rape.  Legitimate and forcible.

Again, people who say otherwise, like Todd Akin, are not ‘distractions’ when they are simply voicing commonly held (among their co-ideologues) ideas about rape and what constitutes a ‘person’ and which categories of ‘persons’ trump other categories. National Republican candidates need to do much more than run away from newly-identified-as-extreme Akinesque comments. 

They need to rethink their whole approach to women’s health, to reproductive rights, and to the policy planks soon to be revealed in Tampa (actually, one has been revealed this morning:  the Republican Party opposes abortion in all cases, no exceptions).  That’s where the rubber (oops, sorry to mention a means of birth control) will meet the road.

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