Todd Akin, Paul Ryan, and The Rapist

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In June, I wrote the following in a longer piece over at

“The GOP war on women is entirely about protecting male power.  Specifically, the power of white Christian men to create and control life as well as prevent women from exercising power.  

Protecting male power to create and control life (ala the classic Monty Python song “every sperm is sacred!”) is most egregiously illustrated by the fact that criminalizing abortion and making contraception inaccessible and illegal protects the power of even a male rapist to determine that life begins.  Without safe and legal contraceptive options and morning-after back-up, without access to safe and legal abortion, life begins when any man and his seed says it does.  Even the rapist.

We need to name those waging this war, those whose power is in fact being protected:  the male politician, the male husband, the male sperm-producer, the male rapist, the male god.”

The name Todd Akin, Republican candidate for Senate in Missouri, just shot to the top of that list, with his comments in an interview posted on Sunday:

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Mr. Akin said of pregnancies from rape. “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.”

I have no idea what kind of magical powers Mr. Akin thinks the female body has.  It seems from this comment that he has no idea how the female body works.  I wonder if he understands that a female body is often part of that which we call “a woman.

Note that he mentions “the rapist,” “the child,” and “the female body.”  Not “the woman” …  “the female body.”  That pesky thing that gets in the way of protecting zygotes.  It’s like objectification to an extreme.  It isn’t a woman.  It doesn’t even sound like a human being.  The zygote has been elevated to the status of “child” but a woman has been reduced to “the female body.”

And though the Romney-Ryan campaign has disavowed Akin’s comments today, they reflect too well the worldview of the Grand Old Party we have seen emerging in recent years.  Paul Ryan was a cosponsor of HR 212, the Sanctity of Human Life Act.  This was a “personhood” bill protecting a zygote at the expense of a woman in whom it resides.  As Kevin Drum at Mother Jones described:

“In fact, if this bill were passed and the Supreme Court upheld it, I’ll bet that a rapist could go to court and sue to prevent his victim from getting an abortion. He’d argue that the fetus was legally a human being, and the court has no power to discriminate between one human being and another. He’d probably win, too.”

Whose life is being protected by this party, anyway?  It gets clearer every day.

Now, go read Chloe’s “thank you note” to Mr. Akin over at  Here’s a little sample:

“I want to thank him for demonstrating that the anti-choice movement is so often divorced from scientific facts, like when they claim that the uterus contains a magical anti-rapist semen force field, or when they claim that there’s a causal relationship between abortion and breast cancer. It is not, in fact, “really rare” for rape to result in pregnancy, unless you think that something that happens 32, 000 times every year is “really rare.”


About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Andrew

    Number of rape pregnancies per year: 37,000. Number of abortions per year: 1.37 million (according to a 1996 study Assuming that every single woman who got pregnant from a rape aborted her child, the percentage of rape abortions would be 2.7%. That means that 97.3% of abortions are not rape victims. They are trying to protect lives. You cite extreme cases.

  • PN Peterson

    In January my wife and I adopted a baby from a woman who we later discovered was/is HIV+. We know little about the father other than they met on a cross country 10-day trip, and that he was/is an illegal immigrant. Was this child produced by a rape? Was the mother drunk? Drugged? We’ll never know. What we do know is that she considered the abortion route, but we’re daily overjoyed she saw it through to deliver…

    …our baby girl.

    One thing comforts me as I read pablum like this about GOP “wars on women”, and their overweening desire to protect zygotes and fetuses: this little girl will know that at certain point in her young life, another woman held the power of life and death over her…a choice. Is this fair? Doesn’t matter…that’s life. But surely, this baby girl, this beauty, this miracle, this LIFE is a larger subject than your “body”. And I am not at war with the women that make this “choice”, I celebrate them. And so should you.

    • Caryn Riswold

      Congratulations on your new baby girl … I trust that she will know your joy daily, and nothing is better than that for the flourishing of a child. You note that her birth mother made a choice. This is true because abortion remains a mostly safe and relatively legal option in this country. If you don’t think it should be a safe and legal option for a woman in difficult and often tragic circumstances, then you ought not use the word choice. To celebrate choice, to recognize it, absolutely includes supporting women who choose to give a baby up for adoption. Which I, and most of the pro-choice activists I know, do. Completely.

  • robert bridges

    Well written – clearly articulated and stated. I posted this to FB I think what you have to say needs to be heard. Keep saying it.

  • jerry lynch

    This idiocy has been part of Right Wing thinking for decades, moving that Party to write “forcible rape” into anti-abortion legislation, to differentiate it from–what? Choice rape? Misogyny is rampant.

    I have heard the Neanderthals talking: Few women are really raped; most are just vengeful tarts with buyer’s remorse and a grudge against men in general. It is not “legitimate rape.”

    The women who get pregnant were not legitimately raped, you see, because of the evolutionary force-field protection in the womb to guard against such things : they wanted it, probably initiated the sex. Therefore, there is no need for a rape exception. This has been proposed on the the floors of Congress, once by Christian Evangelical doctor. No doubt this is the “doctor” Akin was referring to.

  • TJP

    Caryn…..with all due respect I must agree with PN Peterson’s pablum comment. Choice above life….really, sounds American to me and not Christian at all. Following Jesus is hard work and messy work and suffering is an “important” part of that road. Our culture, our American culture, is all about easy solutions….stir and mix….poof, the problem is gone. One half of this culture, roughly, has renamed that “choice,” the other half calls it the truthful, old-fashioned name. Please stop blaming it on the GOP’s “war on women.” That 1960s chant is getting old and evil continues to prevail.

  • jerry lynch

    Paul Ryan has also proposed a “Personhood” at conception Bill to do away not only with abortion but also in vitro fertilization and various contraceptives. He says of himself that no one is more pro-life than he is. Who was it that said, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

  • Christopher Klukas

    Caryn, in your comment above, you suggest that “abortion remains a mostly safe and relatively legal option…” I would like to contest that abortion is never “safe” because it always ends in the termination of human life. Unfortunately, women do have a legal choice to end the life of a baby in her womb. Whether the choice is legal or not, it is still a choice. Rape is indeed tragic and traumatic. To abort the life of a baby after a rape would only add to the tragedy and trauma.

  • Penny Hammack

    I’ve read a lot more than I should have about this idiot. His assertion that a legitimate rape doesn’t result in a pregnancy effectively says that any female who is raped and then gets pregnant is asking for it and therefore should be punished by bearing the child. Thus all females are sluts and cannot be raped. Any man can rape any female they want from infants to ninety year old grandmothers and can’t be charged with rape because the female was asking for it.
    I know that some people are against abortions and that is their right. Others (me included) think that a mother’s decision to have an abortion is also her right We don’t know what circumstances led her to this decision and I can think of a lot of reasons why this would be best for her.
    I hope the the voters in Missouri look closely at this man and what he stands for. The only time he miss-spoke is when he tried to take it back.

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