Editorial: Rep. Todd Akin's notions of rape and conception are idiotic

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Rarely in public life are ignorance and insensitivity blended as thoroughly as they were Sunday by Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri.

Akin made the astonishing assertions that pregnancy from rape "is really rare," and that "if it's legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." This from a man who serves on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, which plays an important role in U.S. science policy.

Akin's history of controversial comments is strong enough that Democrats, considering him the most beatable primary candidate, spent more than $1.5 million to help him win the GOP nomination in Missouri. Mitt Romney and other prominent Republicans rightly rushed to disown Akin's comments, and some suggested he should drop out of the race.

Unfortunately, Akin isn't the first public figure to make such idiotic claims about rape; they have cropped up infrequently over the years from Republican politicians and public figures. In 1980, a Little Rock lawyer who later became a federal judge said "conceptions from rape occur with about the same frequency as snowfall in Miami."

In 1988, a Pennsylvania state lawmaker said "a woman secretes a certain secretion, which has a tendency to kill the sperm." In 1995, a state legislator in North Carolina said that "people who are raped -- who are truly raped -- the juices don't flow, the body functions don't work and they don't get pregnant."

In each case the comments generated outrage and disbelief, both warranted. A 1996 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that, among rape victims of reproductive age, the pregnancy rate was 5 percent, suggesting more than 32,000 such unwanted pregnancies annually. This isn't rare; it's all too terribly common.

There is no basis whatsoever in science for the claim that women's bodies can somehow ward off forcible conception. And Akin's reference to "legitimate rape," with its implication that any significant number of women might be pretending, is outrageous.

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