The dust up over Representative Todd Akin’s statement that women who are raped rarely get pregnant has made the front page of The New York Times. (August 21,2012) Akin is a Republican pro life advocate whose campaign remarks were based on the publications of Dr. John C. Willke, the former president of the National Right to Life Committee.  The Akin-Willke claim asserts that that due to the trauma of a forcible or “legitimate rape” a “woman’s body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.” 

These comments predictably incited outrage and protests-- from politicians, feminists, pro choice and pro life advocates, as well as derisive dismissals from medical experts.  Congressman Akin apologized for the unfortunate  wording of his statements, but continues to stand by his position that rape is not a justification for legal abortion.  Unfortunately for him, his ineptitude may have aborted his political career.    

My reservations re this controversy are complex.  I deplore the fact that fellow pro life advocates can harm the cause by citing unproven scientific claims, seemingly motivated by wishful thinking.  It is imperative when dealing with moral conflicts never to paper over the difficulties of taking a morally just stand for the protection of life.  Costs and suffering have to be admitted as part of choosing to do the right thing.  Abortion is wrong because it extinguishes an existing vulnerable and dependent human life.  How that life began, whether by rape, incest or involuntary accident is not a morally determining factor.

More specifically, to deny the role that chance plays in our lives is intellectually inexcusable. To assert that “nature” knows best or is always benign in its effects is truly misleading. Ours is not a just world where everyone gets what they deserve. Innocent bystanders are injured often—indeed as in Bosnia forcibly raped and impregnated.  Why? because contingency and constraining powers of all kinds operate in the disordered world bequeathed to us by evolutionary chance and human sinfulness.  Hard as they try, individual humans can never fully control their bodies or their future lives.  Ultimately, we are all vulnerable as embryos, and in real need of collective protection and communal support.

As I look around at our contentious current scene, a pattern of opposing beliefs can be discerned. Conservatives influenced by Ayn Rand’s illusions assert that autonomous strong individuals can succeed through their own mental and physical efforts, so let nature take its course.  By contrast, other people (the 99%?) acknowledge human vulnerability to chance and negative forces beyond individual control, so mutual protection and sharing of resources are morally mandated.  For the second group the government is no enemy or obstacle, but rather the best available instrument to ensure that humans survive and flourish.  Who will win this  argument?  

Sidney Callahan

 

Comments

Crystal Watson | 8/23/2012 - 3:28am
From what I've read, raped women are actually more likely to become pregnant than those who have consensual sex.

And as this article in The Atlanrtic points out, Akin has mearly spoken up about what the republican party believes  - the platform  committee has made a decision to ban all abortions, even those due to rape, incest, or danger to the mother ... http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/08/video-of-the-day-forcible-rape-and-paul-ryans-akin-problem/261460/

Most Americans won't accept that level of disregard for women ....  http://www.pollingreport.com/abortion.htm
ed gleason | 8/22/2012 - 8:37pm
Tom; are you comfortable reporting that your ER doctor says that the majority of rapes in ER are phony? The FBI says only 3% of all reported rapes are false. The majority of rapes are Not reported at all... forgetting about ER.
Your ER doctor was smart to "look around' before he gave you such wrongo ideas.. Remedial study and statistics should be in order for him. I guess Akin is not alone out there.. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_statistics 
Bill Collier | 8/22/2012 - 6:26pm
"My reservations re this controversy are complex."

Mine are, too. As a consistent ethic of life advocate (I prefer that appellation over the politically-charged "pro-life"), I can't condone Rep. Akins's statement, of course. Even if the word "legitimate" is left out of his remarks, the remainder of his sentence remains problematical. Rep. Akin made a huge mistake, but I have been bothered, though not surprised, by how the media, with its soundbite method of conveying information, has extended the criticism leveled at Rep. Akin into a sometimes smug attack on pro-life principles as being anti-women. I think Rep. Akin has harmed the pro-life cause to a degree, but just as disheartening, in my opinion, was the Democratic platform committee's refusal to include platform language suggested by the pro-life Democrats for Life of America that would have reminded the Democratic Party that it is a big tent that can easily accommodate pro-life efforts to find ways to reduce abortions.    
Rick Fueyo | 8/22/2012 - 5:41pm
Very compelling reasoning
michael iwanowicz | 8/22/2012 - 9:44pm
Sidney Callahan has articulated singular insight into the range of issues around theodicy and life. I love her reflection that “…More specifically, to deny the role that chance plays in our lives is intellectually inexcusable. To assert that “nature” knows best or is always benign in its effects is truly misleading. Ours is not a just world where everyone gets what they deserve…”
Marie Rehbein | 8/23/2012 - 4:27pm
George, What I heard in "legitimate rape" was that Aiken was saying that women falsely claim to have been raped when they go for an abortion, and that this is his justification for not having a rape exception in anti-abortion legislation.

This is not a new argument.

The outrageous part of his comment was the fantasy scenario in which the woman's body can shut down reproduction if the insemination occurs without her consent.  Would that it were thus...then we would not have this political football to toss around every two years.
George Steidley | 8/23/2012 - 12:09pm
The article fails to address what I believe to be the real reason for the outrage that Rep. Akin's comment provoked in so many people. It has little to do with pregnancy or abortion but rather that his use of the term “legitimate rape” implies a belief in the existence of forms of rape that are justified and are therefor not real (or legitimate) rapes. Usually that means rapes that weren't really rape because “the way she dressed”, “the way she behaved”, or her bad reputation meant “she really wanted it”. Date rape, wife rape and the “she didn't resist enough so she must have wanted it” reasoning also fall into the “illegitimate” or “not real” rape category. The scale of the “outrage” gives hope that maybe we are starting to outgrow these attitudes.
 
Amy Ho-Ohn | 8/23/2012 - 7:33am
Men like Todd Akin and the troll "Tom Smith" are the greatest enemies the unborn child has, much more deadly than the self-described pro-choice organizations.

In my estimation, the pro-choice lobby really is "pro-choice." The vast majority of their adherents would be thrilled if all pregnant chose to carry their children to term. They object to using the coercive power of the state to force pregnancy and childbirth, but they also advocate legislation that would make unplanned children easier to welcome into the world.

But men like Akin and "Tom" and many who call themselves "pro-life," are clearly indifferent to the fate of the unborn child; their motivation is the joy of using him/her as a means to torture and degrade the mother. Their rhetoric deliberately ignores all the arduous, dangerous work of making a child out of a zygote. They invariably advocate legislation that makes unplanned children as financially and socially devastating as possible. Not surprisingly, they happily exploit their own supposed pro-life positions to cast aspersions on women who have been raped.

This is why many people, especially women, who believe that unborn human life is truly sacred find themselves unable to support the political movement which calls itself "pro-life." It is because an unborn human being should be treated like a human being, not like a pawn in a electoral culture war, not as a weapon to extract revenge on women for diminished male privilege, and not as a pretext to force his/her mother into an unhappy marriage ("She wasn't really raped, we know. She should just marry the boyfriend.") 
Kang Dole | 8/22/2012 - 8:43pm
I think you're lying about your ER story, Tom Smith. If it happens that you are telling the truth (or part of the truth), I suspect that you've simply been all too eager to buy into the misogynism of an ER doctor who is himself a liar. You're either a misogynistic liar, or a misogynistic dupe. Maybe both?

The number of rapes that happen in just America alone is staggering...and that number is even more horrifying when you realize how few of them result in prosecution of an assailant. So since sexual assault is already such a problem-and a problem that is improperly addressed-maybe you ought to put the kibosh on enabling the further minimization of just how big a problem rape i.

Maybe Akin did mean that pregnancy associated with rape is rare...but if he did mean that, then he would just be another idiot politician who rode roughshod over reality in order to breed dishonesty and ignorance into what was meant to be political expediency. If I was wont to be more generous to Akin (I;m really not), I'd say he was just another politician whose understanding of a woman's body is probably on par with his understanding of astrobiology. If you have the competence to do a google search, you can find out the statistics for yourself: rape victims are more likely than others to become pregnant.
Joe Kash | 8/22/2012 - 7:06pm
Remember when the liberal gay man went into the conservative family organization and tried to kill one of their employees?  How much airtime did that story get???

Did anyone listen to the Akin interview.  Even given his poorly chosen words his point of the interview was obvious and non-inflammatory.  We all know what he meant by "legitimate rape".  His stupidity was not knowing that the press would figuratively murder him for using these words.  Ask any ER physician what percent of those people who come in to the ER claiming that they were raped were actually raped.  I just did earlier this week and he said, under his breath, that the majority of claims in the ER of rape are probably fabricated.  He said he, as he looked around making sure no one else was listening, that knows its not politically correct to say this but it is true.

Secondly Akin meant that pregnacy associated with rape is very uncommon and that we should not punish the child for the crime of the father.  That was his point.

All of this now is being used by the evil opposition to accuse pro-life politicians of being "anti-woman". 

Sure he did a terrible thing to the pro-life cause.  The terrible thing was to give the nasty, violent opposition any ammunition.
JIM MCCREA | 8/22/2012 - 6:31pm
Idiocy knows no geographic limitations:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19341538