Recently a couple of pro-life political candidates have made dramatic, embarrassing statements about rape.
The first was Todd Akin of Missouri (no relation, as far as I know), who referred to the odds that a woman will have a baby if she has been subjected to “legitimate rape.”
More recently, Richard Mourdock of Indiana seemed to suggest that sometimes “God intended” rape.
It’s clear that some pro-life politicians need to learn better how to talk about this subject. So let’s take a look at it and see what lessons there are . . .
Reportedly, when asked if women who became pregnant as the result of a rape, Todd Akin replied:
Well you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. 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 on the rapist and not attacking the child.
Akin’s first problem–or at least the first huge problem–is that he used the phrase “legitimate rape.” This appeared to suggest that there is such a thing as legitimate rape, which is morally repugnant.
Of course, a moment’s reflection would lead one to realize what he actually meant. By “legitimate rape” he presumably meant actual rape–forcing sex on an unwilling participant.
A contrast to this, presumably, would be cases that are sometimes classified as “statutory rape,” in which the statutes of the local criminal code classify an act as rape because one of the parties is not old enough to legally consent to the act. In fact, both of the parties may be willing participants (or one may not be), but in any event one party is deemed unable to legally consent by reason of age.
Akin may also have had in mind situations in which a woman is ambiguous about consent or where she later decides to repudiate her involvement in the act.
All of this leads to Akin’s second huge problem: Political opponents and people coming from a pro-abortion perspective will not go through the mental exercise of trying to figure all this out. They will simply attack.
If they do acknowledge that he wasn’t actually asserting that some forms of rape are morally legitimate then they will paint him as dismissing what happens to women in other situations (i.e., that statutory rape, ambiguous consent, or repudiated consent “don’t matter”)–or even just accusing rape victims of lying.
Then there is the matter that Akin was trying to assert, which is that a woman’s body has certain in-built defenses such that, if she is forcibly compelled to have sex, make it unlikely she will have a baby.
Although some pro-life leaders have asserted that this is true, others have challenged the claim.
This leads to Akin’s third huge problem: By citing a medically disputed claim he gets the issue off the need to protect children conceived of rape and onto the merits of the claim, with other pro-lifers taking a contrary position.
This allows the enemies of life to dismiss pro-lifers (including Akin) as scientific illiterates who are so driven by ideology that they make preposterous claims repudiated by others of their own camp.