Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Akin affair

I've been kind of passively following the dust up over Rep. Todd Akin's recent comments on abortion. In case you missed it, here's what he said:
It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, [is that pregnancy resulting from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.
Both the Right and the Left are in a frenzy over this. For the Left, this is understandable. Akin's underlying view -- that all abortions should be banned -- is in extreme opposition to pro-choice sensibilities. Add to that the caustic phrasing ("legitimate rape") and the assertion that women's body's somehow parry evil rapist sperm and you've got the makings for some righteous (Lefteous?) outrage. Some of the indignation is, er, legitimate, of course, while a lot of it is political. There's blood in the water, and Politics 101 dictates that the Left make sure that Republicans in general, and Romney and Ryan in particular, have plenty of it on them. Fair enough.

The reaction from the Right has been more interesting to me. Sure, the Republicans are on defense here. One of their members committed a huge unforced error and there's a mad scramble to get him into quarantine lest the malady spread to the body large. There's a lot at stake, so this all makes sense too.

What I find interesting, and impressive, is just how unified, rapid, and demonstrative has been the condemnation of Akin from the Right. This is the Stupid Party, after all, renown for its capacity for self-sabotage. Yet Akin has been nearly as universally lambasted by the Right as by the Left. He's truly become radioactive -- a political leper, for a comment that, frankly, doesn't strike me as all that egregious when you unpack it. Yes, politically it was a stupid remark, a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but let's break it down a little.

Akin was trying to make a a point about the Left's disingenuous tactic of always making the abortion argument about the exceptions rather than the rule. Virtually all abortions in the US are done as a form of after-the-fact birth control -- not as a response to rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother. It's been a while since I've looked at the numbers, but somewhere in the neighborhood of 98% of abortions are cases where the woman engaged in voluntary sex, got pregnant, then decided she didn't want the baby. That is what the heart of the abortion argument is about. But the Left routinely tries to brush that aside and make the argument about the other 2%, the exceptions where women are helpless victims instead of willing participants dealing with the consequences of their own choices, as is the case in the vast majority of abortions.

Now I'm not going to defend the crude and clueless way Akin made his point. But let's look at what he actually said:

1) He stated that pregnancy resulting from rape is rare. "Rare" is subjective, of course, but is this controversial? A quick and dirty web search gives me estimates of about 32,000 rape-related pregnancies per year in the U.S. out of approximately 6 million total pregnancies. That's about one-half of one percent, which strikes me as pretty rare.

2) He asserted that in a "legitimate rape," a woman's body has ways of preventing pregnancy.

Now the phrase "legitimate rape" is excruciating, but it's silly to suggest that he was endorsing rape or suggesting that it's sometimes okay, so don't even go there. He is obviously referring to forcible, violent rape -- a distinction that, unfortunately, it's necessary to make in this day in age as, in some circles, it's now considered "rape" if a woman consents then changes her mind after the fact. ("Sometimes yes means no too," we're told. Anyway, that's a discussion for another day.)

In any case, the assertion here is that a woman's body somehow reacts to violent rape in a way that reduces her chances of being impregnated. Now, I have no idea whether this is true, and neither do you, but Akin was immediately and universally condemned for this remark. I find this interesting, as I can readily think of an explanation for why this might be so. What if the female body has evolved to react to extreme mental and physical trauma by taking measures to thwart or terminate impregnation? Isn't it conceivable that Nature has determined that carrying and/or raising a child in the midst of undetermined and indefinite upheaval isn't a good way to propagate the species and has taken measures to prevent it?

It's an extraordinary claim, admittedly, and so Akin should be challenged on it. Just who are these doctors that have told him this, and what is their evidence?  Those are fair and appropriate questions, and the guy should have to put up or back down, as the case may be. But I'm no expert on these things, and neither are most people, so I say give him a chance to make his case before branding him a liar and a fool. If it turns out that he is, then have at him, by all means.

3) Finally, Akin expresses an opinion: that abortion is wrong, even in the case of rape, because it punishes an innocent for the crimes of the rapist.  Whether you agree with it or not, that's a pretty mainstream opinion. It's the official position of the Catholic Church. It's a view held by millions of Americans. Yet the Left act as if he's guilty of child abuse -- a bit ironic, when you think on it.

The Left claim to be champions of tolerance and civility, but they show damn little of it anymore, viciously attacking any viewpoint that differs from their own, even if those viewpoints are widely held and informed by centuries of tradition. This is all the more annoying as they are constantly harping about need for tolerance and acceptance on the part of their opponents.

But anyway, just to be clear, I'm not defending Akin. I know nothing about the man, and I don't share his views on abortion. (I'm kind of a "tweener" on this issue, but that, too, is a discussion for another day.) He obviously stepped in it big time with these comments, and I think it's probably in the best interests of his movement and his party that he step aside. But those are political considerations. When I consider what he actually said -- foolish and clueless as it may be -- I'm just not that outraged.

More: A very interesting take on this from Larry Elder. He doesn't exactly defend Akin either, but he sure puts things into perspective.

More: Mona Charen has, I think, I reasonable take:
Is it such an outlandish idea? I looked it up, and it appears that there is no evidence that pregnancies are less likely in cases of rape, but it didn't seem out of the realm of possibility to me. Many things about the human body are peculiar and amazing. And frankly, more people than are today admitting it must believe that a woman's mental state has something to do with her capacity to conceive. Consider that every woman (including me) who has ever experienced infertility is told, even by some doctors, that she should try to "relax."

Though dismissed as a myth for some time, the role of stress in infertility is being reconsidered now by specialists. Dr. Margareta D. Pisarska, co-director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles told WebMD that "it's becoming more and more important, in terms of what studies we do, to focus our efforts on the physiological effects of stress and how they may play a role in conception."
So maybe I'm not so alone in my lack of outrage as I thought.

Charen also echos Elder's observation of a severe double standard:
So Akin's views are scandalous and can be used to discredit (however implausibly) other Republicans. But the views of the leaders of the Democratic Party —favoring abortion for any (including sex selection) or no reason throughout the nine months of pregnancy — are not controversial. The Democratic Party's support for partial-birth abortion is not worthy of skepticism. The views of the president of the United States — opposing a law providing that a baby accidentally born alive after a botched abortion be protected from the abortionist's knife — is not shocking. No Democrat has ever, so far as I know, been challenged by a member of the mainstream press to distance himself from the president's extreme abortion position.

Akin is guilty of having his facts wrong. Many of his critics are guilty of worse.
Yeah, I've always wondered about that. Obama thinks it's okay to kill a baby that has actually been born despite efforts to abort it. This isn't at all a mainstream position as far as I can tell. I've never met anyone, on the Left or the Right, that doesn't think this is plain murder. But Charen's right: no one in the media challenges him on this, or asks other leaders on the Left to comment on it.

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