We have all seen the paid advertisements featuring Todd Akin’s apology for his statements about rape and reproduction. I am concerned that the true importance of Todd Akin’s now infamous statement: “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,” has been lost in the flurry of spin doctors who rushed in to interpret it for political purposes. Yes, Congressman Akin apologized, but primarily for his wording, not for the ideas behind it. His wording was neither accidental nor isolated. Until he admits that, then there is no real apology.
Todd Akin was part of a large group of pro-life legislators, including Congressman Paul Ryan, that sought to distinguish between “forcible rape” and something else, (non-forcible rape?) in legislation limiting a woman’s right to choose whether or not to carry a baby to term. Congressman Akin’s comments are part of a concerted campaign orchestrated by those who are uncomfortable with abortion in cases of rape, to rhetorically minimize the possibility that conception occurs as a result of rape.
Comments by Congressman Akin’s former colleagues show that his remarks were not isolated. Take Republican representative Stephen Freind’s comments on the subject: the odds that a woman who is raped will get pregnant are "one in millions and millions and millions.” He was the politician who drove pro-choice Republican Sen. Arlen Specter out of the Republican Party. Or take North Carolina Republican Rep. Henry Aldridge: “The facts show that people who are raped — who are truly raped — the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work, and they don’t get pregnant.” It is hard to believe that intelligent men could make such statements.
The worst part of Congressman Akin’s statement is the implication that a woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape was not really raped. It is explicit in Aldridge’s statement and implicit in Akin’s. Adding to the horrors of rape are the suspicions being cast on pregnant women seeking abortions rather than carry their rapists’ children to term, by people with very limited knowledge of human biology.
This too is made more explicit in the comments of Idaho Republican legislator Chuck Winder: “I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by a rape."
"Medical authorities agree that it is a rarity if ever," Aldridge said. "To get pregnant, it takes a little cooperation. And there ain’t much cooperation in a rape.” I am curious which medical authorities argued that. Are they licensed physicians?
But it is not just a case of ignorance of biology that is the problem. One has to wonder why these legislators were unaware of the use of rape as a means of terrorizing civilian populations in Bangladesh, Bosnia, Rwanda, Congo, Uganda and many other places. In all of these countries, women were repeatedly raped until they showed visual signs of being pregnant, at which point they were left alone to carry the babies of not only their rapists, but of one national group seeking domination over the nation of the women who were raped. So Hutus raped and impregnated Tutsis in Rwanda, Bosnian Serbs raped Bosnian Muslims and impregnated them in the former Yugoslavia. They were left alone, often infected with AIDS and too often shunned by the men of their communities. Do these congressmen ever read the newspaper? How could they be so unaware of the use of rape as a weapon of war?
Now, Congressmen Akin wants to be a U.S. senator. Senators vote on international treaties. Can we trust someone who is unaware of the use of violence against women as a weapon of war to deliberate on matters of international human rights?
Congressman Akin has already embarrassed the people of Missouri by his ignorant statements on matters of rape and reproduction. He has also embarrassed the House Science Committee of which he is a member. Perhaps, Congressman Akin should focus his plans on getting an education in biology, ethics and human relations rather than seeking to be a representative of Missouri on a national stage.
Robert M. Baum is an African historian and historian of religions and has heard testimony about rape as a deliberate act of war in several different countries. He lives in Columbia.