‘Legitimate’ rape

Todd Akin, a Republican seeking to unseat Missouri’s U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, is now famous for implying, on television, that women who say they become pregnant from being raped actually may have consented to the experience or even enjoyed it.

In commenting on whether abortion for rape victims should be legal, he told an interviewer, “From what I understand from doctors ... if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Ugh. Just, ugh.

Fellow Republicans recoiled instantly. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said, “Congressman Akin’s comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable and, frankly, wrong.” Quite so, although “wrong” should perhaps have been first in the list.

Some Republican strategists, immediately seeing how Democrats could make use of Akin’s astounding error, began working to push him from the race, which is a key part of gaining a Republican majority in the Senate. Whether Akin will go willingly remains to be seen. He has since said, via Facebook, that he “misspoke.”

That’s understating the problem to an amazing degree.

As offensive as Akin’s pronouncement was, even more alarming is the fact that Missouri elected to Congress a man with such a poor grasp of science and law and such an appalling attitude toward women, and that the Republican Party was willing to provide strong support because of Missouri’s strategic importance.

How is it that, in 2012, anyone can believe that pregnancy is evidence of consensual sex?

How can it be that, in 2012, a man elected to one of the nation’s highest offices and seeking another believes that stringing together the words “legitimate” and “rape” is anything but an insult to sexual assault victims. “No” must still, and always, mean “no.”

Restricting abortion is a popular topic among Republicans. According to the Washington Post, a draft of platform language circulating among GOP convention delegates calls for a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion. Regardless of whether this year’s platform includes that push, abortion rights will be a topic of contention for years to come.

Discussions of human reproduction cannot be disconnected from discussions of human dignity. The topic must be debated honestly and fairly, with great value placed on facts. Those who oppose abortion must acknowledge all the circumstances that drive women to terminate pregnancies, including rape and must never assume that unwanted pregnancies are less problematic than women say they are. Those who seek to preserve abortion rights must acknowledge that some of the reasons for seeking abortions are unpalatable or unacceptable for many Americans.

Comments like Akin’s have no place in carefully reasoned discussions. Inflammatory rhetoric may produce wins, but it cannot produce consensus. It also cannot help create long-term policies that will not swing back and forth with every change in national leadership.

Far more importantly, such rhetoric is not a morally defensible way to treat human beings, which surely is the purpose of the anti-abortion movement.

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