Erbe: Rep. Todd Akin’s rape remark reveals ignorance

Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo. and his wife Lulli

Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo. and his wife Lulli talk with reporters while attending the Governor's Ham Breakfast at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, Mo. (Aug. 16, 2012) (Credit: AP)

In more than two decades of covering and writing about U.S. politics, I have witnessed too many inane comments from uneducated politicians. But the ignorance of a remark by Missouri Republican Rep. Todd Akin tops them all. It shows the man’s understanding of human biology is seriously lacking, his respect for women is so low as to have sunk beneath Middle Earth and his political notions so ill-formed as to be dangerous. He is an uneducated ideologue unfit to serve in the U.S. House or in the U.S. Senate, for which he is now a candidate.

Akin was asked by the host of a TV public affairs show Sunday whether he supported abortion rights for women who become pregnant as a result of rape. His response: “From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. ... If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume 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.”

Let’s parse out this incredibly erroneous, insensitive string of words. First, Akin says pregnancy from rape is “really rare.” According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, it’s not rare at all. In fact, the center reports an estimated 25,000 American women become pregnant as a result of rape each year. In addition, the center reports 12 percent of women experience sexual assault during their lifetimes and almost 5 percent of those assaults result in pregnancy.


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It speaks to Akin’s fatuousness that he would make a public statement on a topic about which he knows little. It is quite scary that Akin has a vote in Congress to legislate on this issue. It is embarrassing that voters in Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District would grant federal legislative powers to a person this extreme and ill-informed.

To be fair, Akin’s own website proudly states he earned a B.S. degree in management engineering from Worcester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute. So perhaps he could speak more intelligently on engineering topics. But his comments on abortion show he should keep his mouth shut on this issue.

Let’s move on to the next sentence. First, there’s his use of the term “legitimate rape.” What kind of qualifier is that? Does that mean there’s “illegitimate” rape? Sure, every long once in a while a news story is reported in which it turns out a woman has unjustly accused a man of rape. But does that justify the use of the term “legitimate” rape, which Akin throws around as if to say most rapes are not legitimate?

Then there’s the stunner, in which Akin announces a completely new medical finding (which does not, of course, exist) that women who have been raped have some kind of magic wand they can wave to “shut that whole thing down.” One must assume he means raped women can prevent themselves from becoming pregnant. This statement is so outlandish as to be laughable.

The center recommends women rape victims should be given access to emergency contraception within 72 hours of an attack so they can prevent pregnancy. Akin wants to ban such emergency contraception.

Akin is challenging Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. His immoderate comments may be just what she needs to pull ahead of her rival, who had an 11-point lead in a Survey USA poll as of Aug. 11. At the time, she only held 80 percent of the Democratic base, while he held 91 percent of the Republican base.

Akin’s display of ignorance will do more to energize McCaskill’s base than anything McCaskill could have imagined. She is a flawed candidate with problems of her own. But she is no idiot. Now Missouri voters have a clearer picture of whether the same can be said of Akin.

Bonnie Erbe, a TV host, writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service.

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