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Todd Akin and rape politics: Everybody gets it wrong

Congressman Todd Akin

Congressman Todd Akin

Revised: August 28, 2012, 5:00 pm / Updated: August 28 & August 31

“How do you answer the rape question?”  We get it all the time.  Our answer?  “Very carefully.”

Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin set off a firestorm last week with his answer to the rape question.  Of course Obamacrats will demagogue the issue, but I’ve been disappointed by the reaction of some Republicans.  Afraid of getting sound-byted themselves, they just want Mr. Akin to go away and take his controversy with him.

I’ve also been disappointed by the media.  Of course I expected NBC/CBS/ABC to respond in their normally superficial and partisan way, but not the fair and balanced network.  Even there, we got almost no relevant facts, just talking heads reacting out of ignorance.  Perhaps research and reason are difficult and boring.  Bombasity sells.

There are two attacks on Mr. Akin.  The first is about his use of the term “legitimate” rape.  The second is about his assertion that a woman who is raped has a very small likelihood of getting pregnant (which he qualified by saying that he had been told this by doctors).

Legitimate Rape

It is clear from the context that Mr. Akin was talking about an actual rape, perhaps as opposed to an accused rape.  Of course, the people who screamed for “context” to Mr. Obama’s “You didn’t build that” statement a few weeks ago now want no such context for Mr. Akin.  Here’s how everybody is getting this wrong:

President Barack Obama.  President Obama said, “The idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people, and certainly doesn’t make sense to me.”

Really, Mr. President?  So, if we were to talk about alleged rapist Bill Clinton, keynote speaker at the Democratic Convention, we needn’t parse differences between an alleged crime and a real (AKA, “legitimate”) crime, right?  Applying your rule, we should simply say that Mr. Clinton is a rapist, right?

For more on Democratic rape hypocrisy, check out this column by Gregory Kane.

Republicans running for cover.  Sometimes, people should just stand up and say what’s right … even politicians.  I won’t comment whether Mr. Akin should stay in the race or not.  I would gladly throw the man under the bus myself (and jump under it with him) to get a decent Senator from Missouri.  However, Republicans shouldn’t be so hypocritical … nor hypercritical … regarding an ill-chosen word.  They’ve all done it.  By piling on Mr. Akin, they are turning a difficult situation into an impossible one.  For more about the GOP in panic, see Pat Buchanan’s piece.

I was especially disappointed that Mitt Romney called on Mr. Akin to exit the race.  Wasn’t it Mr. Romney who once said, “I don’t care about poor people”?  It was clear from the context that he didn’t mean it like it sounded.

What they should say is this:  “I am sure Mr. Akin didn’t mean it the way some want to demagoge it.  Mr. Akin simply believes that every human life is sacred and should be respected.”

Conception After Rape

I am certain that doctors have told Mr. Akin that a victim of rape is less likely to get pregnant than a woman who engaged in consensual sex.  It is an oft-repeated belief, even if it isn’t true.  We know some women get pregnant from rape (including CBR’s Virginia Director, by the way).  (The ABC Medical Unit blog reported estimates of pregnancy from rape ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 per year.)  But here’s how everybody is getting it wrong:

Todd Akin himself.  First, he needed to construct his statement based on provable facts and practice his statement, before he was asked the question.  Second, he needed to be skeptical of activists, especially those on his own side.  He listened to pro-life doctors, but pro-lifers are like everybody else; they repeat what they’ve heard (if it supports their point of view) and they rarely bother to check the facts.  In the age of Google, that’s inexcusable.  Third, he needs to stay on topic.  The percentage of women getting pregnant from rape has nothing to do with the humanity of their children.

Bottom line: He is running for the US Senate.  He needs to be more disciplined.

Critics who know nothing about reproductive science (and too little about Google).  Lou Dobbs (Fox News) said Mr. Akin’s statement was “absurd” and even invited two psychologists to analyze.  Phil Williams, a local radio personality who is nominally conservative, called Mr. Akin a liar for saying that a doctor had told him that rape victims are less likely to conceive.

Not so fast.  Dr. Jack Wilke, and OB-GYN and pro-life activist) wrote an article in 1999, Rape Pregnancies are Rare.   I don’t have a source, but some have attempted to explain this phenomenon based on stress, which has long been believed that stress can interfere with normal reproductive processes.  Certainly rape is stressful.  Based on these and other factors, some pro-lifers have believed for many years that a rape victim rarely gets pregnant.  I have heard it many times and I’m certain many doctors have repeated it.  Readers can judge Dr. Wilke’s analysis of the data themselves and I’m not trying to sell his conclusion; I’m just saying that many credentialed people do believe it and repeat it.

Here’s the science, as nearly as I can Google.  The chances of a woman getting pregnant from a single incidence of consensual sex is 3.1% (source).  The ABC News blog dutifully reported that some studies have shown that the probability of conception from a single act of rape has been reported as high as 6.4%.  What they fail to tell you is that other researchers have reported conception rates among rape victims as low as 1%, which is a despicable omission.  In his book Theories of Rape, author Lee Ellis cited one study in which “researchers were able to document only 1 pregnancy out of 232 incidences of rape that could definitely be attributed to the attack” (Theories of Rape, published by Taylor & Francis, 1989, page 47).

I don’t know whether a rape victim is more, equally, or less likely to get pregnant.  But this I know: Even if Mr. Akin’s statement is incorrect — I tend to believe it is incorrect — it is certainly not without basis.

Going Forward

Like I said, I don’t know if Mr. Akin should stay in the race or not.  If he can’t win, he needs to accept political realities and bow out.  Our country and our children are at stake.

I’m not a political expert, but if he stays and fights, I would tell him this:

  1. Quit apologizing.  Enough already.
  2. Regarding “legitimate” rape, say something like this: “Look, in the course of conversation, I added a word that didn’t need to be there.  I understand what they want you to think I said, but everybody knows that I didn’t mean it that way.  Rape is a serious crime; and we need to do more to understand it and prevent it.”
  3. Regarding the science, “Of course I know that women get pregnant from rape.  I had been told that it was rare, but now I know it is maybe not as rare as I was told.  Deal with it.”
  4. Answer the rape question this way, “I believe every human life is sacred and should be welcomed and supported by all of us.  We can’t solve one act of violence by committing another.  By the way, many victims of rape agree with me.  So do their living children (example).”

What do you say?

UPDATE – Aug 28, 2012, 10:40 am:  More recent over-the-top statements by Karl Rove, Andrew Napolitano, and others have likely delivered the coup de grace to any chances Mr. Akin had left.  The Dems will gleefully capture Republican soundbytes denouncing Mr. Akin and play them over and over again.  If he wants to make sure the Republicans can win back that seat (so they can pass a budget and stop ObamaCare), he has no choice but to stand aside and let the Republican Establishment send in a relief pitcher.  Fair or not, that’s just the political reality.

UPDATE – August 31, 3:25 am:  See Ryan Bomberger’s column on Karl Rove’s comments.  He is obviously not a friend of the pro-life movement.

Congressman Todd Akin and Family

Congressman Todd Akin and Family

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One Response to “Todd Akin and rape politics: Everybody gets it wrong”

  1. August 29th, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Chris Lefebvre says:

    You will be happy to know that Akin has reestablished his lead in Missouri. For us pro-life folks, “legitimate rape” is a legitimate concern! Rebecca Kiessling, a child of rape, reminded us recently, “The largest illegitimate rape claim ever perpetrated in the history of our nation was the foundation for the filing of Roe v Wade, which led to abortion on demand in our country! So the next time you hear anyone complaining about Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” remark, I want you to remember that abortion rights activists are the women who cried wolf.”

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