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Duly Noted

Tuesday, Aug 21, 2012, 10:52 am

Todd Akin Claims Rape Can’t Result in Pregnancy

By Lindsay Beyerstein

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Totally legitimate businessman Tony Soprano.   Aturkus, Creative Commons.

“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,” Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) said on Sunday.

Akin's mix of misogyny and science fiction proved too offensive even for Republicans who have given him until 5pm today to drop out of the senate race against Claire McCaskill. So far, it isn't working. Karl Rove is like "Shut this whole thing down," but Akin is digging in like a tenacious blastocycst.

Akin apologized on Monday, claiming he misspoke:

Akin said on Monday that he "was talking about forcible rape and it was exactly the wrong word." "Rape is never legitimate," Akin added. [SLPD]

Akin didn't misspeak. (Note that in trying to refocus the debate on the word "legitimate," Akin effectively doubled down on the pseudoscientific claim that women secrete their own emergency contraceptives. This from a man who sits on the House science and technology committee.)

Misspeaking is saying "legitimate" when you meant to say "illegitimate." It's thinking one thing and having the wrong word come out, or making a grammatical error that inverts the meaning of your sentence, or some other verbal typo.

Using "legitimate rape" to mean "forcible rape" is deliberate and offensive. It's not a verbal snafu. It's an ugly habit rooted in misogyny. Akin didn't coin this language on the spot. There's a tradition of conservatives using words like "honest" and "legitimate" to qualify rape. Remember when Ron Paul got in trouble for saying that victims of "honest rape" should get emergency contraception? (Akin doesn't even go that far.)

We bring in qualifiers like "legitimate" when there's some prior doubt about authenticity. Hence the red flag phrase, "perfectly legitimate business." If you have to specify, you're operating in a context in which businesses can't be presumed to be legitimate.

Using words like "legitimate" and "honest" to talk about rape is a subtle way of casting doubt on rape allegations in general--as if rape allegations were inherently more dubious than say, accusations of assault or embezzlement.

That's actually what guys like Akin believe. No misspeaking here. They're implying that women routinely use false rape allegations to "get out of" the consequences of their slutty, slutty behavior. This is directly relevant to Akin's point about why he opposes abortion even in cases of rape. He wants us to believe that women who turn up pregnant after being raped don't deserve exemptions because they're probably lying.

Normative qualifiers like "legitimate" and "honest" are a kind of dog whistle when applied to rape. When a pol says "legitimate rape," the left thinks he means forcible vs. non-forcible; the right thinks he means truth-telling ersthwhile virgins vs. lying whores.

Why is Akin so preoccupied with forcible vs. non-forcible rape in the context of abortion laws? Limiting abortion access to cases of forcible rape is a shockingly misogynist ploy in its own right. Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan teamed up with Akin to co-sponsor legislation to prevent Medicaid from covering abortions for rape victims, except in cases of forcible rape.

Everyone agrees that the violence of a rape should be a major factor in determining the punishment for the rapist. More violent robbers get harsher sentences, too. But why would it matter for the sake of an abortion exemption?

The essence of rape is lack of consent. If you buy the standard argument that if a woman didn't consent, she shouldn't have to bear the child, then all kinds of rape should be equally covered. It's an antiquated idea that only rapes where the woman fights to within an inch of her life are "real" rapes--an antiquated idea that was reflected in most American rape laws well in to the 1970s.

Why should a woman who is raped while she's unconscious be more responsible for a pregnancy than a woman who failed to fight off her attacker? Why should a child, who can't consent in virtue of not having the mental faculties to consent or the social capital to refuse, be responsible for the consequences of her victimization?

It just doesn't seem fair, even to the most hardline anti-choicers, that a rape victim should have to bear her rapist's child. So, Akin and the religious right have to resort to magical thinking to explain why that never happens. Predictably, their flights of fancy turn towards blaming women. Whether it's doubting that non-forcible rape is rape, or treating all rape allegations as suspect, these guys are determined not to let reality impinge on ideology.


Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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