I posted a while back on Facebook about Todd Akin’s statements on abortion and rape, but the subject is worth returning to this morning.
Among the post-mortems is the proposition that extreme anti-abortion sentiments cost the Republicans two Senate seats that were theirs to win, and that the Republicans will have to have better discipline about expressing such sentiments in the future.
This is no doubt true as a reading of what happened in those races, but it’s a serious mistake to act as if Akin, Mourdock and others on the right expressing the view that rape doesn’t cause pregnancies, or that pregnancies following rapes are the will of God, and other variations thereof are just being indiscreet, stupid or unbalanced. Or that they are just an idiosyncratic and extreme fringe of the argument against abortion rights. What they say about rape and pregnancy is a an almost necessary outcome of the baseline case against choice. They cannot get away from these sentiments without conceding on the fundamentals of their beliefs. The proposition that rape by definition cannot make a woman pregnant, and the even uglier inference hidden inside of that, that a pregnant woman wasn’t raped, is a desperate and conscious attempt to get out of the trap they’ve made for themselves, not a product of incapacity or derangement.
The trap is this: if you concede that it is legitimate for a woman to choose in the aftermath of a rape to terminate a pregnancy because that pregnancy extends the trauma and violation of the attack, you concede that women are entitled to the control of their own bodies, minds and lives including pregnancy. Game over. Because there’s no way to firewall off rape as so utterly unlike all the other circumstances in which a woman might decide that she cannot carry a pregnancy to term, all the other feelings of trauma or violation or risk or burden or incapacity or fraility or self-protection or need or planning or autonomy. You concede that it’s a woman’s prerogative in one case, you are open to many others, if not all others–and you are conceding the inflexible declaration that an embryo is a fully human subject with full human rights. (Because no one anywhere would argue that anyone is personally entitled to kill a fully human subject just to manage our own autonomy and emotional wholeness, or to bring closure to trauma.)
Don’t expect people like Todd Akin to get away from their views on rape and abortion. They can’t get away until they adopt a far less absolutist view of the underlying principles. Once it’s conceded that women can choose, the argument is only about what the circumstantial rather than fundamental restrictions to their choices can be.