Rep. Todd Akin’s views typical in anti-abortion religious right

Rep. Todd Akin’s views typical in anti-abortion religious right August 21, 2012

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s future as the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate may be decided today.

It seems to come down to a clash between the party establishment — campaign strategists and party officials — and the religious right. The politicos view Akin as damaged goods and want him to withdraw from the race in order to improve the GOP’s chances at picking up the Senate seat. The religious right views Akin as a faithful warrior whose only misstep was verbal.

As Pema Levy explains for Talking Points Memo: “If Akin stays in the race, it will be with the support of the Christian right, who stood by during the fallout Monday, but likely without his party’s infrastructure behind him.”

And make no mistake about it: the religious right is standing by Akin.

Missouri Right to Life and the Susan B. Anthony List quickly came forward with statements of support for Akins.

The Liar Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, has been growling at GOP officials who have criticized Akin, warning them to “be careful” lest they incur the wrath of anti-abortion voters.

And FRC’s “Action PAC” released a statement defending Akin from what it called “gotcha politics”:

“This is another case of ‘gotcha politics’ against a conservative leader,” FRC Action President Connie Mackey said in a statement. “Todd Akin has a long and distinguished record of defending women, children and families. He has fought against forcing taxpayers to subsidize abortion giant Planned Parenthood, which is the bedrock of Claire McCaskill’s base of support.”

He concluded by saying: “We know Todd Akin, and FRC Action PAC enthusiastically endorses his candidacy.”

For the religious right — the anti-abortion, Christianist “pro-life” wing of the Republican party — Akin is guilty of candor, not heresy. He made explicit the views that they prefer to keep implicit, but they have applauded or yawned in response to similar statements for many years now.

What Akin said was ludicrous, but the views he expressed are not at all unusual in his evangelical subculture, his political party or the anti-abortion movement as a whole.

It was ludicrous in at least two ways. First there is the bogus science — the utterly wrong claim that pregnancy from rape “is really rare” because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” And second there is the cruel victim-blaming — the distinction between rape and “legitimate” rape, with the implication that some rape victims are somehow not legitimately victims.

But do not think that this makes Todd Akin a fringe character or puts him out of step with the mainstream of the “pro-life” movement. He repeated an absurd and patently offensive urban legend, but he did not invent this urban legend.

That’s the thing about urban legends, no one knows who started them. They just seem to arise, organically, and then to circulate endlessly wherever they find a receptive audience. And this legend has had a receptive audience in the anti-abortion movement for decades.

Like many people who receive and then excitedly pass on such myths, Akin added his own little flourishes. He prefaced his restatement of this urban legend by saying, “from what I understand from doctors” — the kind of vaguely authoritative attribution often used to suggest that an incredible assertion should be treated credibly.

But the rest of what Akin said was standard boilerplate for this particular urban legend. It’s something he repeated because he had heard it repeated, over and over, in his evangelical, GOP and anti-abortion circles.

Anyone who’s spent any time in those circles recognizes this. Some people are tactically claiming now that they’d never heard such a thing before — that this was some novel, innovative new claim being made by Todd Akin.


Akin didn’t say anything new. Both parts of his awful statement are things that other anti-abortion political and religious leaders have said before — things they have been saying for years. And such statements have never been controversial within the religious right.

If you’ve ever been a part of the “pro-life” movement, or spent any time immersed in that movement, then you’ve heard this all before. As SR notes at Talking Points Memo:

I grew up awash in the Pro-Life reasoning, and this idea of “real rape” (typically defined as the stranger assaulting the victim in a violent manner) preventing pregnancy was the standard response to the Pro-Choice argument about making exceptions for rape and incest.

The reasoning (as I recall it being explained) is that during acute stress, the body will prevent implantation, or else miscarry, due to the hormones released in response to stress. Now, any OB/GYN can explain to a Pro-Life person why this isn’t the case, but like the way any lawyer could easily dismantle the Birther argument, the truth doesn’t matter. The problem is how does a Pro-Life justify forcing rape victims to carry their babies to term, and the solution is to say that “real” rape victims don’t get pregnant and those who claim they were raped are disproven by the fact that she hadn’t miscarried. Shamefully, the second half of that justification includes dismissing the claims of rape victims who weren’t assaulted in the stereotypical manner, and even then, there are doubts about the veracity of the claims.

I don’t think this is what all Pro-Life people think, but this is what I heard growing up, and I never questioned it myself.

As SR says, not all anti-abortion people believe this particular mythology, but they are all aware of its presence and pervasiveness in the movement. And like so many other easily disprovable urban legends within that movement, this lie has been allowed to thrive, unchecked, unchallenged and uncorrected. For many, many years.

Sarah Kliff puts it well: “Rep. Todd Akin is wrong about rape and pregnancy, but he’s not alone.” Kliff recalls Stephen Freind, the Pennsylvania legislator who was a rock-star in the anti-abortion movement. Freind made a career out of arguing exactly what Akin just said. He spent years in Harrisburg trying to get this urban legend written into law.

As Republican pundit David Frum says, Akin’s outrageous statement “is not one man’s mental spasm” — but an expression of the same ideology shared and promoted by leading anti-abortion crusaders in Congress, such as Rep. Chris Smith.

Garance Franke-Ruta has more on the lineage and pedigree of Akin’s particular variations of this ideology.

Brian Tashman reports on the current status of this mythology within the anti-abortion movement:

Human Life International says “it is very useful to be able to show just how rare rape- and incest-caused pregnancies really are” in order to expose women who falsely state they were raped in order to have abortions: “Women who are willing to kill their own preborn children for mere convenience obviously see lying as a relatively small crime.”

40 Days for Life, the group which holds hundreds of protests outside of abortion clinics throughout the country, in “ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments” also says that pregnancies resulting from rape are “extremely rare” and “can be prevented.”

And, Tashman notes, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association has been loudly defending the substance of Akin’s comments. “Todd Akin is right,” Fischer tweeted, “physical trauma of forcible rape can interfere w/hormonal production, conception.”

Fischer links to an article by John Willke, who was president of the National Right to Life Committee for 10 years. Willke cannot be dismissed as some kind of fringe figure in the anti-abortion movement. And Willke has been saying just what Akin said since at least the 1990s.

Willke’s advocacy of those same views never sparked any controversy within the anti-abortion movement. He was not criticized or called on to qualify his views, even though his remarks were no different than Akins’. The science was just as fraudulent, the victim-blaming was just as vile.

Todd Akin is not unusual. Todd Akin is not alone. The pernicious, ridiculous lies he got in trouble for are widespread and blandly typical throughout the anti-abortion movement within the GOP and within the Republican voting bloc that has replaced what used to be evangelical Christianity.

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