Rape and Other “Gifts from God”

During a debate this past Tuesday, Indiana Republican senate nominee, Richard Mourdock, made the case against the rape exception for abortions: “I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God, and even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

So according to Mourdock, God intends for rape to happen, and the outcome of rape is a gift from God.

 

What puzzles me is how Mourdock’s rape enthusiast comments fit with Missouri Republican senate candidate Todd Akin’s recent comments that “legitimate rape” (read “forcible rape”) rarely leads to pregnancy because, ”If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Mourdock and Akin’s beliefs, when considered together, produce a bizarre philosophy. I would like to know: Why would God create female bodies that reject God’s “gifts”? And if women don’t get pregnant from “forcible rape,” does that mean that God doesn’t intend “forcible rapes”? Put another way, does God only intend certain types of rape, you know, the ones that come with “the gift”?

One-in-five Americans agree with Mourdock and Akin’s abortion stance. Razib Khan’s analysis of the General Social Survey shows that 20% of Americans think abortion should be illegal in cases of rape. Republicans with lower levels of education who identify as extremely conservative and believe the Bible is the word of God are more likely than other Americans to hold this belief.

For Mourdock, Akin, and more than 50 million other Americans, God truly does work in mysterious ways.

The Science of Lady Parts and the GOP

Last Thursday, Republican Representative and Tea Party favorite, Joe Walsh (R-Ill), told reporters that when it comes to abortion, “there’s no such exception as life of the mother” because of “advances in science and technology.” This astounding claim was news to the medical community.

Walsh joins the ranks of some other prominent Republican men who don’t understand basic lady parts science: Representative Todd Akin (R-MO), who claimed that pregnancy from “legitimate rape” is “really rare” because “the female body has ways to shut the whole thing down,” and conservative comedian Rush Limbaugh, who doesn’t understand the basics of birth control pills. (He thinks you take a pill every time you have sex!)

These remarks would be humorous if it weren’t for the fact that these men are part of a broader effort by the extreme wing of the Republican Party to take aim at women’s reproductive health.

At the state level, Republican lawmakers enacted a record number of anti-abortion measures in 2011, four times as many as the previous year. A study from the Guttmacher Institute shows that legislators in 45 state capitals introduced 944 provisions to limit women’s reproductive health and rights in the first three months of 2012. These states are proposing/passing abortion ultrasound requirements, gestational limits, health insurance exemptions for contraception coverage, and stringent limitations on medical abortions.

The Guttmacher Institute, 2012

In the past two years, 19 states have introduced bills modeled on a Nebraska law that bans abortion 20 weeks after fertilization. The Oklahoma State Senate redefined “person” as starting at conception, while the Mississippi House approved a bill requiring women who want an abortion to undergo an examination to determine if there is a fetal heartbeat. Texas and Virginia require women to undergo an ultrasound prior to receiving an abortion, and many other states have similar proposals underway. Texas recently cut reproductive services for 130,000 poor women.  As this chart from NARAL indicates, twice as many states passed anti-choice laws in 2011 than in 2010.

NARAL, 2012

At the federal level, in 2010, the newly elected House Republican majority was quick to propose major cuts to reproductive health services. They made several attempts to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, the largest family planning provider in the U.S. that has been around for a century. They also tried to gut Title X, a program that funds family planning and preventive breast and cervical cancer screenings. Both proposals were stopped by Senate Democrats. Ironically, on the same day that House Republicans tried to eliminate Title X funding, Representative Dan Burton (R-IN) proposed contraceptive funding for wild horses (!)

Congressional Republicans also proposed an amendment to the health care bill that allows federally funded hospitals to turn away women in need of an abortion to save their lives. This is by far the most brazen attack on the “mother’s health” exception to restrictions on abortions. In May of 2012, Republicans proposed a veto on sex-selective abortions that failed to pass the House, despite broad Republican support for the bill. And in early 2012, Republicans in Congress held hearings on whether the new health care law should include contraception coverage. These hearings included virtually no female experts, so House Democrats held more inclusive hearings that (gasp) included women. Limbaugh assailed one hearing participant, Georgetown student Sandra Fluke, calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

Prominent conservatives, including Republican Party leadership, have roundly dismissed the assertion that the party is engaged in a War on Women, but the recent flurry of legislation curbing reproductive freedoms tells a different story. Given baffling comments from the likes of Walsh, Akin, and Limbaugh, the generals in this War on Women obviously need to include lady parts science as part of basic training.

2012 Election Sexism Watch #10: “Much More Ladylike”

In case you missed it, Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin has again raised the ire of those who care about gender justice by stating that his opponent, Senator Claire McCaskill, was “much more ladylike” when she ran in 2006. He went on to say, “I think we have a very clear path to victory, and apparently Claire McCaskill thinks we do, too, because she was very aggressive at the debate, which was quite different than it was when she ran against Jim Talent.” (The Washington Post, and the Associated Press described the debate as more cordial.) In other words, Akin thinks that McCaskill’s unladylike aggressiveness at the debate will cause her to lose the election.

It’s rare to hear such a clear articulation of the double-bind of women’s leadership, where female leaders have to enact masculine traits to be considered “leaderly,” but this is then held against them because they aren’t being “properly ladylike.” I hope that Missouri voters are smarter than this, but maybe Akin is on to something. Several prominent Republicans who shunned Akin in August for his conflation of “forcible rape” with “legitimate rape,” endorsed him the day following his unrepentant “unladylike” statements. But it’s hard to say whether they were responding to this statement or his suggestion the next day that employers should be able to pay women less than men.

The close timing of these two overtly sexist statements begs the questions: Is Todd Akin purposefully exploiting potential sexism in the Missouri electorate to advance his campaign, and are notable Republicans supporting him because this tactic might work? Political journalist Chris Cillizza thinks Akin is a “devastatingly bad candidate” who will cost Republicans the Senate, but a series of polls indicate that he’s not only climbed back into this race, he may have a slight lead.