At the top of today’s show, we took on discussed whether Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) comments on rape and pregnancy are an anomaly, or that Akin simply “misspoke.” In fact, our research discovered that dating back decades, Republican lawmakers and political groups have taken stances that discredit and devalue rape victims.
Congressman Akin used the phrase “legitimate rape,” which alludes to Republican efforts to redefine “rape.” One of those efforts was the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” – H.R. 3 – led by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and co-sponsored by 227 House members last year, including Rep. Akin and Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). In its original form, the bill made an exception that permitted abortions “if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape.” Narrowing the definition of rape to “forcible rape” could mean that victims of statutory rape, or even perhaps women who were drugged and raped, may not qualify for an abortion.
In 1990, Texas gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams compared rape to bad weather, saying ”If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.” He apologized later that day, saying it was a joke and was sorry “if anyone’s offended.” Despite once leading the race by double digits, Williams lost the election to Democratic State Treasurer Ann Richards.
In 1991, as a state representative, Todd Akin criticized an anti-marital-abortion bill, suggesting women might claim abortion “in a real messy divorce as a tool and a legal weapon to beat up on the husband.” Akin eventually voted for the bill.
Perhaps a more alarming claim about rape argued through the years by conservative leaders is that it doesn’t lead to pregnancy. Congressman Akin made this point in his interview Sunday when asked if victims of rape should be allowed to get an abortion. Garance Franke-Ruta writes in The Atlantic about a series of conservatives who have peddled this falsehood. In 1980, an attorney who was later tapped for a federal judgeship by President George W. Bush, wrote “Concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.”
The same theory was argued in 1988 by Pennsylvania State Representative Stephen Friend, who said, “The odds are one in millions and millions and millions…Rape, obviously, is a traumatic experience. When that traumatic experience is undergone, a woman secretes a certain secretion, which has a tendency to kill sperm.”
In 1995, on the floor of the North Carolina State House, Representative Henry Aldridge proclaimed, “The facts show 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.”
As you form your own opinion about Rep. Akin’s comments and the subsequent condemnation from his Republican colleagues, remember this isn’t the first time we’ve heard opinions like this from conservatives, and likely will not be the last. You can watch Alex’s open and the discussion about the history of these comments below: