I've been laying out a post on the London Olympic Hangover and the last of the summer holidays (including the first real summer weather), but yesterday I was hit upside the head by something that still has me shaking with anger. And disbelief. And rage. See, I've spent much of the past three years paying almost no attention (insofar as it is possible) to both American politics and, more importantly American politicians. I lived through the previous Presidential campaign in Southeast Texas, and as someone of fairly liberal leanings, that experience gave me a Pavlovian response that includes RUN AWAY!!!!! from most political coverage and "discourse". In that time, various scandals and missteps have trickled across my radar, but I've managed mostly to ignore them. But not this time.
As you are probably aware, Missouri Republican Senatorial candidate (and current Congressman) Todd Akin busted open a big, ole' barrel of rotten apples by enlightening us all in an interview on Fox News with his views on whether or not abortion should be allowed in cases of rape. He stated, in a discussion of wether or not abortion should be allowed in cases of rape, that it was his understanding that it's rare for women to get pregnant after "legitimate" rape. He said "The female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.” (Video clip here).
Imma gonna pause here for a moment to let you get a full grasp on Congressman Akin's stunning grasp of physiology (implications of his statement to follow): The female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down. Ok, I am
not a biologist a motherf---ing biologist, so I'd like to break down this issue with some evidence from the literature.
Instances in the literature in which women can control their fertility through willpower alone:
1) Vonda McIntyre's excellent post-apocalyptic science fiction novel "Dreamsnake" (men have this superpower too, to be fair).
Strangely enough, the National Library of Medicine's database (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) does not return any results relevant to this discussion when using the search terms "fertility control" or "reduced fertility after rape". "Rate of pregnancy after rape" returns a number of papers, including one by Holmes et al (1996, Am J Obstet Gynecol 175(2): 320) indicating that, at least in the middle 90s, the national rape-related pregnancy rate was 5.0%, leading to 32,101 pregnancies resulting from rape each year. I would argue that the actual numbers are higher, given that rape is an underreported crime. A much more recent study (Bartels et al, 2010, Confl Health 4: 9) found that among women subjected to sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, those subjected to sexual slavery were more likely to get pregnant then those who were gang raped. I suppose Congressman Akin would argue then that sexual slavery isn't rape? Or maybe he doesn't worry too much about women in the developing world...
I spent most of yesterday afternoon on the couch in the throes of flu and stewing over this latest atom bomb from the American political right wing. Here are some of the implications that worry me:
1) The idea of "legitimate" rape. Congressman Akin has amended his words to say that by legitimate he meant "forcible" rape. Ummmm, ok. Does that mean it's only rape if you're held down with a knife at your throat? If you get the crap beaten out of you in the process? If there are more of them then there are of you? What if it's your date? Or a friend? Or your husband? Or perhaps Congressman Akin would like to argue that wives can not be raped by their husbands? (And I think he would.)
2) OK, so let's say you are raped. And you go to the cops and you do all the right things while trying to keep yourself from completely going to pieces. And you start to move past it. Then you find out you're pregnant...in Congressman Akin's worldview, your rape case goes straight to hell because you must have enjoyed it. If you really were raped, you wouldn't have gotten pregnant, right?
3) I'm sorry Congressman Akin, but do you have a uterus? What's that? I can't hear you?....wait a minute, wait a minute....no, you say? Well I've got one. So do lots of my friends. So do my two daughters. YOU DO NOT GET TO DECIDE WHAT MY CHILDREN, OR ANY OTHER WOMAN ON THIS PLANET, MUCH LESS IN MY COUNTRY, CAN DO WITH THEIR OWN BODIES!
It's bad enough that Congressman Akin thinks this way. There are plenty of people who think this way. What makes it totally unacceptable is that he thinks it's appropriate to say these things out loud, on television, in support of a campaign to get him elected to any political office, much less the Senate of the United States of America. Because from where I sit, this is advocating abrogation of the human rights of 50.8% of the population of our country, according to the most recent census. Is this what it means to be part of the Republican party in 2012? I don't care how far and how fast the GOP backpedal from this guy, and how much they urge him to step down from the race (which he's not doing, by the by), this man stood up as a Republican candidate, backed by his party, and as a member of the House Science and Technology Committee (what the everloving fuck? Part of me died with that little nugget of information), and demonstrated that he has neither the basic understanding of biology nor the miniscule amount of political self-preservation not to stand up and tell the world, in not so many words, that women can't be trusted with control over their own bodies because, well, they just can't. Except when they're being "legitimately and/or forcibly raped", because then they magically don't get pregnant.
I really am afraid that this is just symptomatic of a broader problem, an erosion of the basic human rights of women that the Republican Party, or perhaps the more extreme factions of the party (including the brand-spanking new
Presidential Vice Presidential candidate), are bent on pushing forward into legislation. At least that's what they're saying in front of the cameras and the journalists and the rallies. If you are a woman, we know what's best for you. If you are a woman, you can't be trusted with decisions about your own body. And you can't be trusted for the simple reason that hey, you were born with two X chromosomes instead of one of these cool Y ones. Seriously? I wish I could say you must be kidding me, but I really, really can't any more.
So, if you are a real, live registered American voter and you:
a) have a vagina and/or uterus,
b) at one time had a vagina and/or uterus, or
c) love/like/admire/adore/respect/parent/appreciate/associate with/work with someone in possession of a vagina and/or uterus, please ask yourself the following question:
Is this kind of statement what you want your duly elected officials to be promoting? And using as the basis for legislation?
PS - If you are so inclined, anyone who is a US citizen can donate to Mr. Akin's opponent in this race, incumbent senator Claire McCaskill - sadly, it looks like she could use all the help she can get.