Love and Objectivity: On the Public Indictment of Todd Akin

Most of us are familiar with - and, often times, hypocritically preach - Christ’s teaching to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44).  But what fewer of us understand is that the value of this teaching isn’t limited to its importance to our spiritual well-being.  In the contentious arena of politics, loving your “enemy” (for instance, one who belongs to a rival political party) enables you to objectively understand ou.[1]  If, by contrast, you hate your enemy, and not merely ou’s arguments, you’re at risk of believing unreasonably negative things about both.

The renewed backlash against Former U.S. representative, Todd Akin (R-MO) is a perfect illustration of how contempt for the enemy can preclude a well-reasoned assessment of the views ou expresses.  Appearing on MSNBC to promote his new book, he attempted to defend controversial remarks made during an interview that proved fateful to this 2012 bid for the U.S. Senate.  In his effort to downplay the frequency of rape-related pregnancies (more on that later), Akin stated that “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” 

Much of the liberal media was quick to characterize Akin as sexist[2] and scientifically illiterate for supposedly implying that rape is occasionally acceptable and magically prevents pregnancy.  The antipathy towards Akin didn’t bode well for a fair hearing of the explanation he offered on MSNBC, which Igor Volsky of ThinkProgress described as a “pathetic attempt” to invent “an entirely new rationale for those comments.”  In a Facebook discussion accompanying the article, Angelo P. expressed his desire to “kick [Akin] so hard in the scrotum that his testicles would come out of his nose” (last time I checked, his comment got 267 likes).  Further down the thread, Mindy C. was also not feeling the love: “Prison and soap on a rope for this pig.” 

But how accurate are these characterizations of Akin’s comments?

Rape and Pregnancy
Akin suggests that rape-induced pregnancies are less likely than pregnancies caused in other circumstances.  The reason, he later explained, is because of emotional stress, which a rape victim presumably undergoes at an exceptionally high level, and which has scientifically been shown to reduce the probability of conception, as well as increase the likelihood of a miscarriage.  To put it in a less articulate way, Akin believes that stress “is the female body’s way to try to shut that whole thing down”. 

However, in his summary of recent studies on this subject, Hal Herzog notes that women are more likely (twice as much, in fact) to conceive as a consequence of rape than by consensual sex.  The reason why “remains an open question.” 

Whatever impact that rape might indirectly have on subsequent stages of pregnancy is beyond my knowledge.  Indeed, I’m in no position whatsoever to speak on the scholarly consensus on any aspect of this multi-faceted issue.  But that is not my intention.  I merely want to show that describing Akin’s claims as “scientifically baseless” is a bit over the top (Yes, he should do more research before publicly speaking on such matters…A lot more research.).  As I noted above, things have gotten so out of hand that he’s presented as arguing that “ladyparts magically prevent pregnancy from rape.”  That so many people unquestioningly accept this portrayal is, I suspect, a testament not only to the power of propaganda, but also to the reality-distorting effects of contempt. 

Legitimate Rape
In his use of the term legitimate, Akin is interpreted as implying that some forms of rape are justifiable.  Yet some media pundits appear reluctant to directly defend this interpretation.  Rather, they seem to subtly proceed from the assumption that this interpretation is correct so as not to expose how ridiculous it truly is - even more unlikely than someone being so callous as to believe that rape can ever be justifiable is a candidate for political office being so foolish as to express such a vile opinion in public. 

It’s more reasonable and charitable to assume that Akin used legitimate synonymously with well-founded, pointing to the reality that some rape allegations are, indeed, unfounded.  While estimates on the number of false rape allegations vary widely - ranging from <2 to >40 percent - the undeniable fact is that false accusations of rape do occur from time to time.  So, yes – it is possible to speak of “legitimate rape”.  I won’t spend much time addressing Mr. Akin’s controversial, yet logically consistent view that abortion shouldn’t be permitted in cases of rape.[3]  I only wish to draw attention to the possibility that people’s contempt for this view - and for Akin, as a person - has prevented them from evaluating his words in a rational manner.  Otherwise, they’d recognize that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the term “legitimate rape”.   In fact, I sometimes find myself questioning whether he should have even apologized for his choice of words, however much I admire his (at least apparent) humility in doing so.  It seems that the duty to apologize falls more on those who have misrepresented him, perhaps with the intention of exploiting voters’ emotions during a critical election.

Appearance to the contrary, I would not be counted among Todd Akin’s supporters.  I imagine that I’d disagree with him on most political issues; but unlike the critics sampled above, I will strive to do so in love.

Amir Azarvan

Amir Azarvan is an assistant professor of political science at Georgia Gwinnett College. He blogs (occasionally) at Amirica.

[1] There once were gender-neutral pronouns native to English dialects.  These include the pronoun "ou" (as in ou smells funny, in place of he smells funny).  It is more inclusive than the traditional “he”, and less of an eye sore than the more politically-correct “he/she” or “s/he”.  So, at the risk of being accused of clandestinely promoting an “LGBT agenda”, I have made it my dream (okay, slight exaggeration) to revive the use of ou.
[2] The charge of sexism is easier to level when one’s audience is already accustomed to viewing pro-life views as anti-women.  But if being pro-life makes one sexist, then as many as 41% of women are evidently self-loathing women.  Indeed, women have been shown to be more supportive of a 20-week abortion ban.  As Aaron Blake of the Washington Post writes, “71 percent of women would seem to support the effort to increase abortion restrictions.”
[3] If it’s true that (a) one shouldn’t deprive a human of the right to life, and (b) that which is aborted is a human being, then it’s logically valid to oppose the right to an abortion even in cases of rape, since the manner in which one is conceived has no bearing on ou’s status as a human being.  

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