For those of you paying attention to anything the Republican party is putting out there right now, there’s some seriousness related to women’s healthcare. Most recently, language and political beliefs around a woman’s rape, that results in a pregnancy, that might lead to an abortion. Focus with me for just a second. Just to be clear, the only focus in this conversation is what is happening to that potential fetus: not the woman, not the rapist, not the healthcare around pregnancy, not the healthcare around abortion, not the social support system around the rape. Just the abortion.
I’m so emotionally fired up about this, that the post is a bit long, but I really thought it out over a few days. Like in an argument with a loved one, where you excuse yourself and light a lavender candle for 30 minutes and take deep breaths. Except, I don’t love Todd Akin. But I needed to be able to think clearly about this issue and read other wise people’s thoughts.
The heinousness of the statements by Representative Todd Akin, regarding his opinions on why all abortions are morally wrong, including those pregnancies related a rape, are being critiqued everywhere. Below is a video summary of what’s been going down:
Supposedly, someone fed him some line, causing him to conclude that ““It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the 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.” Breaking this whirlwind of a statement apart, one might conclude the following from the first half:
- “legitimate rape” might refer to a rape that someone not involved determines to be legitimate, or that someone can determine was a rape that applies to described laws, and that isn’t the lingual opposite, possibly termed “illegitimate” rape
- “the whole thing” might refer to the sometimes simple and sometimes complex way in which a woman gets pregnant: where she is in her cycle, if an egg has been released, if her uterine lining has built up sufficiently, if her uterus doesn’t expel a fertilized egg, if her hormones are firing, and if she’s not on birth control
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a statement about both of these points, the “legitimacy” and “the whole thing.” I’ve copied their statement at the bottom of this post. My inner arm-pump was thinking that ACOG was really sending him a “you’re an ignorant asshole and don’t use our name in vain,” statement. Props, ACOG. It didn’t need to be said, but it was awesome you said it. Naming what is important to be named.
Yesterday, the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) followed up with a statement, standing with ACOG and affirming the global perspective of the horrific nature of all violence against women. “Globally, an estimated 1 in 3 women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Medically false remarks suggesting that some rape is not “legitimate” imparts blame for the crime on victims, perpetuates the culture of violence, and undermines our efforts to combat this enormous public health crisis.”
The second half Representative Akin’s statement refers to a punishment on the rapist and not on the child, in the rare case that the “shutting it down” process didn’t work. THE WOMAN IS NOWHERE IN THIS DISCUSSION. Not once is her violation mentioned outside of the word ‘rape,’ which clearly is irrelevant to the point anyway, since they’ve succeeded in making the topic so separate from the act that it’s mere political fodder and no longer a woman’s body, her violation, her assault. WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? Name the woman, otherwise she is forgotten, spoken word against a person who doesn’t deserve recognition, an act against a nameless face.
Lastly, the only reason that he is even commenting on this issue is because the woman is possibly carrying a fetus, and he has strong opinions about that. Sexual assault that doesn’t involve a possible pregnancy? Digital, anal, buccal? Not relevant to this conversation, because there’s no fetus. Here he demonstrates that only care about rape if it’s a penis and a vagina and a baby could come of it, and then the legitimacy of the act is important. Otherwise, not a political argument and not worth speaking about.
Numerous news sources and blogs have accurately critiqued this whole thing.
- Garance Franke-Ruta in The Atlantic: “Arguments like his have cropped up again and again on the right over the past quarter century and the idea that trauma is a form of birth control continues to be promulgated by anti-abortion forces that seek to outlaw all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest. The push for a no-exceptions anti-abortion policy has for decades gone hand in hand with efforts to downplay the frequency with which rape- or incest-related pregnancies occur, and even to deny that they happen, at all. In other words, it’s not just Akin singing this tune.” (Note: she follows this with a long history of language like this.)
- Laura Helmuth in Slate: “The statement was actually intended to soften Akin’s absolute opposition to abortion, even in the case of rape or incest. Why bother to have loopholes for such conditions when they’re going to be so rare, goes his thinking?”
- Barack Obama: “The views expressed were offensive,” said Obama. “Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we are talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me. So what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women.”
- Eve Ensler on HuffingtonPost.com: “You used the expression “legitimate” rape as if to imply there were such a thing as “illegitimate” rape. Let me try to explain to you what that does to the minds, hearts and souls of the millions of women on this planet who experience rape. It is a form of re-rape. The underlying assumption of your statement is that women and their experiences are not to be trusted. That their understanding of rape must be qualified by some higher, wiser authority. It delegitimizes and undermines and belittles the horror, invasion, desecration they experienced. It makes them feel as alone and powerless as they did at the moment of rape.”
- Soraya Chemaly in Fem2.0: “Which is why this is also a prime example of how religious privileging in education and public discourse overtakes reason and results in debilitating ignorance and real and tangible harm for children and women. And men. Ideas like Akin’s are why rape tragedies like what happened at Penn State and the ongoing Catholic abuse nightmare happen. Ideas like Akin’s and friends’, grounded in misconceived ideas about sexuality and women’s inherent sinfulness, their shame, their laboring for their wrongs, their sacrifice, their punishment, deny the reality of male victims of rape. These religiously vectored ideas are central to their political and legislative agendas as evidenced by these abortion and rape statements.”
- Chloe’s “A thank you note for Todd Akin” in Feministing: “I also want to thank him for revealing the contempt and mistrust that lies at the heart of so much anti-choice rhetoric. The contempt for women who have sex for pleasure and accidentally get pregnant. The mistrust of women that feeds the belief that we lie about being raped so we can get abortions, and the mistrust of women that justifies the idea that we don’t know when we’ve been raped and that politicians get to decide that for us.”
Similar to the laudable Eve Ensler, what I’m focusing on lately is the word ‘legitimate,’ and others exhausted notation of its nodding toward “illegitimate rape.” What does that mean, to give something legitimacy? My tried and true Webster’s dictionary has the following things to say about it:
- Born of parents married to each other.
- Reasonable, justifiable.
- Conforming to accepted rules, standards, etc.
Importantly, Republicans who have spoken out against Akin, such as the Romney-Ryan ticket, have spoken out against his language of “legitimate rape.” This is despite Ryan’s history of changing legal language from the all-encompassing “rape” to “forcible rape.” Linguistically and politically speaking, Paul Ryan and Todd Akin’s actions are essentially indistinguishable.
If the female body had a way to “shut the whole thing down,” or anyone who finds it important to shut down conversations like these that negate people’s words, their experiences, their assault, their lives, we’d be shutting down:
- the act of rape itself
- the social environment that facilitates any degree of sexual assault
- the political environment that makes anti-woman laws
- the culture that devalues its women
- the culture that belittles sexual assault
- the media who makes women’s voices quieter than men’s
- the language that ignores women
- the voting of politicians who propagate these ideas
“Recent remarks by a member of the US House of Representatives suggesting that “women who are victims of ‘legitimate rape’ rarely get pregnant” are medically inaccurate, offensive, and dangerous.
Each year in the US, 10,000–15,000 abortions occur among women whose pregnancies are a result of reported rape or incest. An unknown number of pregnancies resulting from rape are carried to term. There is absolutely no veracity to the claim that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down.” A woman who is raped has no control over ovulation, fertilization, or implantation of a fertilized egg (ie, pregnancy). To suggest otherwise contradicts basic biological truths.
Any person forced to submit to sexual intercourse against his or her will is the victim of rape, a heinous crime. There are no varying degrees of rape. To suggest otherwise is inaccurate and insulting and minimizes the serious physical and psychological repercussions for all victims of rape.”