The Politics of “Legitimate Rape”: The Romney-Akin Nexus

If a campaign can self-destruct in an inferno of imbecility, then this must surely provide a good recipe for it.  Akin’s grasp of reality, at least when it comes to those of the opposite gender, is slim, caricatured and severe.  Enter then, the disastrous move that requires a contrition tour to rival that of Bill Clinton, the antics of Congressman Todd Akin and his remark about “legitimate” rape.

For Akin, Mitt Romney backer, promoter and slugger, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. [Pregnancy] But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something.  You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

This is familiar territory for Akin, who is a devotee of that line of thinking that Medicaid funding should be only applied to abortions in cases of “forcible rape”.  He sponsors bills to that effect, and has a coterie of zealous followers.  That rape might itself have its own taxonomy would be remarkable, even for Akin.

Individuals such as Dr. John C. Willke, who promoted the idea in the mid-1980s that rape, given its awe-inspiring brutality doesn’t lead to conception, share the curious pattern of thinking that afflicts the Missouri representative.  For Willke, a woman might well be “uptight” in the face of such a traumatic encounter.  “The tubes,” he has stated rather graphically in a treatise lacking an iota of scientific merit, “are spastic.”  In an article in the Life Issues Connector (April 1999), Willke claims that, “Assault rape pregnancies are extremely rare.” In the lurid figures he proceeds to recount, he finds few conceptions to warrant a mention.  Women, strange creatures, dare not conceive before the invasions of the molesting phallus.

Disturbingly, at least for Romney, Willke was a man who endorsed the Romney campaign for president in 2007, and has, in turn, been embraced by Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association.  The words of the Romney for President Campaign were unstinting in their praise, leaving a trail that must, surely, be making the GOP candidate worried.  “I am proud to have the support of a man who has meant so much to the pro-life movement in our country.” As for Fischer, he will be remembered for organising a revolt against the appointment of Richard Grenell as Romney’s national security spokesman.  The reasons, as are well known, was Grenell’s interests in batting, sexually, for the other side.

To spice the political cooking for the GOP, Akin so happens to be on the House science committee, where he extols the virtues of creationism and suspects those naff conspirators behind climate change.

And, just to make the connection with the Romney camp interesting, Mitt’s running mate Paul Ryan is a snug co-sponsor of the Akin bill limiting Medicaid.  While Akin pits his paltry wits against the incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, he is proving to be something of a mad sore in the side of the Romney-Ryan camp.  Even inventive foolishness has its limits.

The gender gap, a curious chasm that characterises discussions about American politics, is immense between Democrats and Republicans.  The gap has been roughly 10 percent in recent times, and it may well have widened with the antics of the Missouri Congressman. Enter, then, the apology tour of the Akin set, propelled by Ryan himself. “I was misinformed and I recognise that,” he told Matt Lauer.  Akin doesn’t do sheepish well and should best retreat.  In time, the Ryan-Romney team may well send him packing for good, wheeling him  out occasionally for laughs.  As it stands, that’s all Akin is good for.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and can be reached at: bkampmark@gmail.com. Read other articles by Binoy.