Confusing Science and Politics: What is Legitimate Rape?

It’s low-lying fruit, and everyone else is wailing away at it like little kids swatting at a stuffed piñata, but I’m going to jump into the latest misogynistic controversy involving Missouri Rep. Todd Akin.  The Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, Akin justified his opposition to abortion rights for victims of “legitimate rape” on the grounds that these victims have unnamed biological defenses that prevent pregnancy.

Not wanting to be accused of exaggerating, I’ll let Akin speak in his own words:

First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare.  If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

After tightening my facial muscles and thinking about this for a millisecond, I said aloud, “Say what?  What the hell is ‘legitimate rape?’”  Apparently Akin would ignore all instances of acquaintance and/or date rape.

According to the National Institute of Justice, a sub-agency of the Department of Justice, “about 85 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women are perpetrated by someone known to the victim; about half occur on a date.”  Sadly, half of these college students do not define these sexual assaults by acquaintances as “rape.”  Filled with guilt and self-recrimination, the victims assume that when there is no obvious physical injury, or when alcohol is involved, no “legitimate” rape occurred.

Make no mistake: date rape, or rape by acquaintance is still rape—legitimate rape.  The key question for determining if rape occurred is whether the alleged victim consented to the sexual intercourse.  There can be no consent if a woman if unconscious, or under the requisite age to give legal consent.  A husband can rape his wife; a father can rape his daughter; a brother can rape his sister: no matter the circumstances, sexual intercourse absent the consent of the victim is still rape.

Now, I’m a pro-choice Republican.  And I understand that there are members of the Republican Party who think that abortion should be prohibited no matter the circumstances.  I know I should dodge this issue, but given my personal history, I must speak on behalf of all those who have been abused or raped. When the underlying sexual act was done to an unwilling participant, and this leads to an unwanted pregnancy, we cannot morally ask the victim to carry the baby to term. The pregnancy occurred without consent, it is cruel and heartless to ask the rape victim to carry a baby to term.  Hell.  It’s bloody medieval if you ask me.

I found it fascinating that Akin tried to argue that a woman’s body shuts down during “legitimate rapes.”  I’m not going to waste too many words on refuting this patently absurd contention.  Let us take official notice of the biological fact that a woman cannot shut down her vagina or somehow make her reproductive organs prevent sperm from reaching her eggs.  Akin’s argument is idiotic, but it’s even worse than that: it’s evil, because it switches the responsibility for preventing inception to the rape victim.

Let’s say a woman was raped by a stranger.  According to Akin, her body, if acting properly, would actually prevent the sperm from reaching her ovaries.  If the “legitimate” rape victim became pregnant, therefore, it would somehow be because she didn’t try hard enough, or her body failed her by not rejecting the sperm.  Under Akin’s bizarre construct, the same woman could not seek an abortion—after all, she failed, or her body failed, to prevent the pregnancy from happening.

Is this the best argument Pro-Life activists can assert in cases involving rape or incest?  To me, this kerfuffle shows how intellectually bankrupt the extreme right wing has become.  I pray that the Republican Party moves toward the middle during the upcoming convention.

Friends, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, or Independent, take a close look at the candidates in your local races.  Let’s try to elect people who have an elementary understanding of biology and a rational justification for his or her political and philosophical beliefs.  I understand and respect that some people oppose abortion under any circumstances.  But let’s not elect politicians who confuse science with politics or who lack the ability to think rationally.

57 Comments on “Confusing Science and Politics: What is Legitimate Rape?

  1. Oh, El. I was wondering if you would post on this! I am trying so hard to stay out of the political arena locally because I myself have an upcoming election for the school board next April. But this? This is so hard to sit back and take without at least mentioning the ridiculousness of his comments and how very hurtful some beliefs held by some of our current leaders are toward women’s health in general. Yes, reproductive health contributes to a woman’s overall health, and I am shocked and amazed that we are having to fight for this all over again. At least we are ALL standing up – Republican and Democrat alike – and reminding each other that his comments are erroneous and preposterous, and that’s worth something, isn’t it? 🙂

    • LOL Dawn–of course I was! And it must be hard to choose when to join and when to stay out of the fray politically–I can only imagine! But this issue, and the treatment of women’s health issues in general, need not be political. My views on abortion are not driven by ideology so much as philosophy, if that makes sense. And yes: we are ALL standing up, despite party allegiance, and I think that’s great!! xo el

  2. Well said El. I guess according to him, my 14 year old self didnt try hard enough and failed to protect myself when I was left pregnant from stranger rape.

    what an absolute idiot, his words are dangerous, especially to those who have spent their lives blaming themselves anyway.

    lola <3

  3. Wow, wow, wow. El… you have just written an incredibly well expressed and powerful piece. This should be spread all over. You are so on target and my 15 year old self thanks you for speaking up for her! I love you. Ella xoxo

  4. OMG El that is brilliant. Thank you a million times over for intelligently stating the outrage us victims are feeling about this absurd & ignorant statement.

  5. While I appreciate your sentiments, I’m a little concerned about my lack of knowledge. I’m not a mother, nor a biologist, but last I checked, sperm don’t need to travel as far as the ovaries. My science is hazy, but I thought the egg dropped from the ovary to the uterus and THAT is where the sperm heads?

  6. As a pro-choice democratic/independent/party-free kind of girl let me just say Brava! We are not the country extremists on all sides portray us to be. We are smarter than that. We are more thoughtful than that. We are open to new ideas and not afraid of science nor are we afraid of faith. We are so much more and we need to take the country back.

  7. My county is two-thirds registered Democrats. I’d be committing suicide by not registering myself as a Democrat. My children wouldn’t be able to get the “good” jobs here. But, I don’t vote by party. Thomas Jefferson said that we are to be independent thinkers when it comes to politics. Take heed, abortion is very political.

    This piece is so well written that it is almost unfathomable to think anyone can argue its points. I’m pro-life, but I’m not a diehard. There are exceptions. Rape is rape. No means no, and your conscience dictates as to whether you were raped or if you raped someone. Unfortunately, not everyone is truthful about committing rape. If they were, the due process could be streamlined and the long, costly trials could be avoided.

    Believe it or not, I was taught the very same thing this politician said while I was in high school in the 1970s. I know it’s not true. I was smart enough, intelligent enough to actually read more about how a woman’s body functions. Yes, I went to college, but not one professor ever taught me anything about rape or the functions of how a woman’s body worked. I’m a male and like all other males I had no clue. I learned about it through reading. Maybe I just watched enough television when I was young to remember the “Reading Is Fundamental” commercials. Maybe they stuck and that’s why I read about it. Maybe I cared about someone who had been the victim of incest or rape. For whatever reason, I read about it and educated myself about rape and a woman’s body.

    This elected official did not read about it. He didn’t educate himself. He allowed someone else to do his thinking for him and he spit it out on national television. He wants to continue his career in politics even though he has expressed his ignorance in front of the entire nation. Do you think he’s ever undertaken the study of the Constitution of the United States of America? If he has, do you think he questioned the interpretation his teachers gave him? I don’t credit him with that much intelligence.

    Rape, pregnancy and abortion are all final; just like murder. When it’s done, it’s done. No matter how it’s done, it’s done and the end result will always be the same. The same applies to appointing or allowing the appointment of people who can’t think for themselves, yet want to think for us and pass laws that will control us.

    Just to show you what kind of man Todd Akin really is, he said something that he knew nothing about, got caught on camera and then reversed what he said and now is blaming it all on editing. I guess he thinks we’re all really stupid. Keep him and people like him out of elected office. Do what Thomas Jefferson said to do. Think for yourself.

    • Brilliant, awesome comments above, dear Robert. I’m grateful that you, and so many men like you, cared enough (for whatever reason) to educate yourself about this issue. So kind of you to comment my friend. Much love to you and to your family. ~el

  8. I have a pretty healthy mistrust of politicians in general (and I try to avoid commenting on politics because I don’t want to offend anyone – and I find it’s often bad for my blood pressure), but… statements like this… wow. No matter what anyone’s views are on abortion, I mean… really? How? What? I just… I don’t even know what to say / how to respond to what Akin said… unbelievable. Just… wow. *groans*

    • Hey spilled ink guy! I try to avoid politics too–the whole offending people is really unfortunate! But man! Wow. That was my initial response yesterday lol (groan). So nice of you to stop by!!

  9. Todd Akins comments about a woman’s body shutting down during “legitimate rape” are preposterous is you ask me. And if I think or say any more on this issue I will most likely bust a blood vessel because this makes me so enraged.

    • Stephanie, I just told my husband I’m getting a migraine from all of this! It’s absolutely insane that a few months ago we had to battle the likes of Rush Limbaugh and his ill-informed, inflammatory remarks on a radio talk show regarding women’s reproductive health care. And now this from someone who has the power to draft legislature? It’s not just mind-boggling, it’s infuriating. I need an ibuprofen….

  10. Wow! Really? I agree with you completely El. Where did this guy go to school? Unbelievable that ANYONE could even imagine that a woman’s body can “shut down” under circumstances such as this…. It boggles the mind….

  11. I make no bones of my position, either on this issue or others. Abortion is a horrible and final solution it is also no ones business but the pregnant woman’s. The right to choose is not simply the right to say ‘Yes’ it is the right to say ‘No’. I am intimately familiar with having this right stripped from me, I will forever defend women’s right to have full and complete authority over their body and their health decisions. We cannot parse when it is okay and when it is not okay, beyond the development cycle of a pregnancy and the health of a woman. These are the only two legitimate demarcations, all others are moral definitions that do not apply except to the woman who must make the decision over her health, her life and her body.

    This man (barely that) had the audacity to state that medical doctors told him these lies. He is an idiot and if any medical provider told him these lies they should be stripped of their license to practice medicine.

    As to the definition of Rape, until men like this and Paul Ryan accept that men can also be raped and the long-term and terrible affect on them is just as bad as on women they will continue to attempt to shrink the definition. Soon we will be back to Legitimate / Forcible Rape being that which is so violent half the victims don’t survive and the other half don’t report for fear of being slut walked in court. Only then will these monsters of the Right be satisfied.

    (sorry El, but the GOP took a Right turn 4 years ago and they are no longer the Republican party with a middle only one with Extremes).

  12. El, this is a strong and well written post. And I agree with nearly all of it.

    Except on the political issue. The Republicans, the GOP have made making life more difficult for women part of their entire platform. Abortion? Birth Control? Equal pay? No, never! Spousal Abuse? Sure! And, missy, you want to earn the same as a man for doing that job? Pishhaw.

    These folks want to take us back. We got out of these policies 50 years ago. I for one don’t want to go back.

    Elections matter. Today more than ever.

    • Thank you so much Elyse! I swung by your place and added my thoughts on what you wrote today. Mostly, I’m just shaking my head about Akin and Augusta. I think we need to toss the party affiliations out the window when it involves women’s rights. I’m pretty much straight-up pro-choice . . . I wish a party reflected my views both on reproductive rights/women’s health and economic freedom.

      I’ll cross the aisle for this.

      • I think that women, and men who are sensible, need to run from the candidates who reek stupidity, self righteousness, and who oppose science and critical thinking.

        When I was younger, I was leaning republican. There were such stars in the GOP then. (PRE-Reagan). I’ve been meaning to write about that. Some day soon, I will.

        I love your writing!

  13. To mispeak is to make a mistake in what you said. Like saying 85% instead of 82%, you meant what you said, but you made a mistake in reading it or calculating. But to say what you truly believe to be true and than to say you mispoke because you find out that the whole world thinks you’re an asshole is not really something you mispoke, it’s trying to save yourself and not admitting that you are just an asshole. I find this man ignorant and offensive and anyone who has stood beside him and supported his views in the past, is probably cut from the same cloth. Ryan is just smarter and hiding behind Mitt on this one. And what does Mitt really knows about women either, father of 5 sons? Tell your daughter she has no right to choose how to take care of her health when she gets “legitimately or illegitamately raped”. I’ll bet these same men would be finding a nice secret place for their daughter to go to in Canada.
    Spoken from someone who has been raped while drunk and having the guy of her dreams walk her home, so she would be safe from the scary people hiding in the alley. Only to find the guy of her dreams was her nightmare.

  14. It’s odd that we have to define the difference between legitimate rape and illegitimate rape. Shouldn’t it be the distinction between sex and illegitimate sex?

  15. Well said, El. The first thing I thought of, after the “Seriously?” moment, was that this does, indeed, imply that if a woman does become pregnant from a rape, she clearly didn’t find it a traumatic experience. Thank you for your level-headed analysis of that idiotic idea.

    • Thank you Piper! And thank you for stopping by!
      I wish that more commentators could keep a level head, so I really appreciated what you said above. I’ve been reading a lot of commentary, both in blogs and online, and some people, especially on the left, resort to insults and acrimonious remarks and it really turns me off. Abortion is only one of a whole host of issues, and Akin is only one man in the party. I hope that neither will be used as a litmus test by potential voters.
      Hoping you’re having a lovely weekend!

  16. Who allows people like Akin to open their mouth and speak such verbal vomit?? Was there no one in his life that could try to stop him from even becoming this ignorant and worse spewing it—maybe his mother, sister, wife, girlfriend/s, any other women in his life, I am sure a female must have heard him before he went public. He IS a legitimate moron/idiot, just another half witted politician. Barf, I am so sick of stupidity.

  17. Bravo! There is an attack on women being carried out by far right men. Most of the rest of us are somewhere in the middle. Many of us are fiscally conservative while socially liberal. It’s difficult to know how to vote – until this kind of Dr. Seuss medicine from the traveling witch doctors of the eighteenth century becomes the weapon with which to beat up half of the population of this country. We need to put more women in office – regardless of party. I’ll be choosing cooler heads this November.

  18. I’m sick of all the chatter about abortion. Roe v. Wade is settled law. No right winger can dislodge it. No left winger has to guard it. All this chatter is distraction, plain and simple (and part of Obama’s narrative about the right wing’s “War on Women”).

    Elect somebody with a knowledge of biology? Hell, I was sure hoping to elect someone with a knowledge of ECONOMICS and a respect for the Constitution, but hey, that’s just me.

    Apparently, arguing over a dead horse (ROE V. WADE IS NOT GOING ANYWHERE, FOLKS! GET OVER IT!) is more important (or maybe it’s just sexier) than discussing the teensy little problems like spending ourselves into eternal servitude and burning the Constitution at both ends.

    I don’t frigging care what some Yahoo in Missouri says about women’s biology. I WANT A STABLE, GROWING ECONOMY, LACK OF CORRUPTION IN GOVERNMENT, and PRESERVATION OF FUNDAMENTALS LIKE, OH, THE C-O-N-S-T-I-T-U-T-I-O-N.

    Get it?

    • Hey there Zan–thank you for stopping by. Often, I have said the same thing: I’m sick of the abortion debate. The Supreme Court has spoken, in both Roe and Casey, and nothing is going to change the viability test. Back in law school, we’d debate these standards of law over big plates of sushi and we’d generally agree on nothing by the end of the meal, but we’d usually leave the table and table the debate in relatively good spirits.

      As far as the issues you’ve cited that deserve greater attention, I have spent years studying them and my belief in economic freedoms, as espoused by Hayek and von Mises, to mention a couple of my favorite economists, is one I will never surrender. Indeed, this is why I vote for the Republicans year after year.

      And yet, as of late, some politicians, including Ryan, have attempted to introduce legislation that limits the abortion rights carve-out to those who suffer from forcible rape only (in addition to incest survivors and mothers whose lives are in jeopardy). As an incest and non-violent rape survivor, I find this legislation a massive abrogation of constitutional rights, not to mention a menace to individual liberty; therefore, I will advocate against those who introduce these bills.

      And yes, Zan, I get it.

      Have a lovely evening!