‘Forcible rape’ legislation … this is ‘civilized’ politics?Politically Aware Thursday, August 23rd, 2012
Commentary: Politically Aware
From the Republican outcry against U.S. Congressman and Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s use of the phrase “legitimate rape,” you might think he’s said something outside the conservative mainstream. You’d be wrong.
Akin has plenty of company, with the proof available in the Library of Congress. Just 15 days after being sworn into the 112th Congress, the “jobs focused” Republican-led house began to circulate House Resolution 3 (HR3), the “No Tax Payer Funding for Abortion Act” through various committees. Included was an exception “if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape …” Among the bills’ 150 plus cosponsors were Mr. Akin, vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan and San Diego’s own Rep. Duncan D. Hunter.
Akin’s problem is that he put a spotlight on the intransigent abortion views of the current Republican House and gave insight into the extreme right’s next step.
Truly zero-tolerance anti-abortion crusaders face an inconvenient truth. In both public polling and Supreme Court precedent, support for abortion restrictions drops noticeably when exceptions for rape and incest aren’t included. Rep. Akin’s statement wasn’t a momentary lapse, but rather the blueprint for redefining rape to minimize, or eliminate any actual exceptions.
Defining rape as forcible or legitimate is an attempt to revive the canard that there are different levels of rape, separating the “real” victims who deserve our sympathy from those who don’t. Given the absurdity of this distinction, it’s understandably hard to pin elected officials down on specific forms of “non-forcible” rape, so let’s go back to the original HR3. The previously quoted section continues “… or, if a minor, an act of incest.” Got that? Apparently at least 150 members of the U.S. House of Representatives believe: (1) that some forms of statutory rape are not “forcible,” and (2) that minor victims of these “non-forcible” rapes should be forced to maintain their pregnancy unless incest is involved.
Clearly, delineating which rapes are “non-forcible” ahead of time isn’t going to make for great talking points, except for an address to the Family Research Council. Better to have an outcome measure that determines whether a rape was forcible.
Which brings us to the rest of Akin’s statement: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” Combined with the “forcible rape” language, it brings the number of legal abortions by rape victims to zero, by making a tautology of pregnant victims of non-forcible rape. Disregarding the sheer scientific idiocy of Akin’s statement, it’s rather slick. It’s also horribly wrong.
The “forcible rape” language was eventually removed from HR3, and Akin has tried to walk back his comments amid calls for his head from Republican leaders and senators. Akin may be going overboard for putting a spotlight on the real Republican plan; but don’t think for a moment that his vision for abortion laws is going with him. One day after Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus called on Akin to withdraw, the Republican platform committee failed to include exemptions for rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother in their abortion plank. Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor were notably absent from the mob calling for Akins head, and it took until late Tuesday for vice presidential candidate Ryan, who has worked with Akin on “personhood” legislation, to call for him to drop out.
Romney and Ryan claim that this election is about jobs and the economy, but they continue to make it clear that personal freedoms are the real stakes. If Republicans can take control of the Senate and White House in November, HR3 will be back, complete with “forcible rape” language or a spin-friendly synonym. That should legitimately scare anyone who supports reproductive rights, and force a vote for President Obama.