Todd Akin rape and pregnancy comment controversy

Template:Article for deletion/dated While making remarks on rape and abortion on August 19, 2012, Todd Akin, a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives, candidate in the 2012 U.S. Senate elections in Missouri, and long-time anti-abortion advocate, made the claim that women victims of what he described as "legitimate rape" rarely experience pregnancy from rape.

The comments from Akin almost immediately led to uproar, with the term "legitimate rape" being taken to imply belief in a view that some kinds of rape are "legitimate", or alternatively that the many victims who do become pregnant from rape are likely to be lying about their claim. His claims about the likelihood of pregnancy resulting from rape were widely seen as being based on long-discredited pseudoscience with experts seeing the claims as lacking any basis of medical validity.<ref name="canard">Template:Cite news</ref><ref name="pseudo">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="NYT-21-08-2012">Template:Cite news</ref> Akin was not the first to make such claims, but was perhaps one of the most prominent.<ref name="Freind">Template:Cite news</ref> While some voices such as Iowa congressman Steve King supported Akin,<ref>Template:Cite news</ref> senior figures in both parties condemned his remarks and some Republicans called for him to resign.<ref name="defense">Template:Cite news</ref><ref name="resignation demands">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="romney 1">Template:Cite news</ref> In the resulting furor, Akin received widespread calls to drop out of his Senate race from both Republicans and Democrats.<ref name="GOP chair">Template:Cite web</ref> Akin apologized after making the comment, saying he "misspoke", and he stated he planned to remain in the Senate race. This response was itself attacked by many commentators who saw the initial comments as representative of his long-held views, rather than an accidental gaffe.

The incident was seen as having an impact on Akin's senate race and the Republicans' chances of gaining a majority in the U.S. Senate,<ref>Akin Vows to Stay in Race After "Legitimate Rape" Gaffe NBC 10 Philadelphia Scott Ross Monday, Aug 20, 2012 | Updated 6:56 PM EDT</ref> by making news in the week before the 2012 Republican National Convention and by "shift[ing] the national discussion to divisive social issues that could repel swing voters rather than economic issues that could attract them".<ref name="">Akin imbroglio is bad news for Republicans Tom Cohen, CNN updated 3:23 PM EDT, Wed August 22, 2012</ref> Akin, along with other Republican candidates with controversial positions on rape, lost due to backlash from women voters.<ref>Template:Cite news</ref>


In an August 19, 2012 interview aired on St. Louis television station KTVI-TV, Todd Akin, the U.S. Representative for Missouri's 2nd congressional district and a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Claire McCaskill, was asked his views on whether women who became pregnant due to rape should have the option of abortion. He replied:

Well you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s 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 on the rapist and not attacking the child.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

The comment was widely characterized as misogynistic and recklessly inaccurate, with many commentators remarking on the use of the words "legitimate rape".<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite news</ref> Related news articles cited a 1996 article in an obstetrics and gynecology journal, which found that 5% of women who were raped became pregnant, which equaled about 32,000 pregnancies each year in the US alone.<ref>Template:Cite journal Cited in: Template:Cite web</ref> A separate 2003 article in the journal Human Nature estimated that rapes are twice as likely to result in pregnancies as consensual sex.<ref>Template:Cite journal Cited in: Template:Cite web</ref> (See also pregnancy from rape.)

Akin responded to the comments by first issuing a press release stating:

"As a member of Congress, I believe that working to protect the most vulnerable in our society is one of my most important responsibilities, and that includes protecting both the unborn and victims of sexual assault. In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year. Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

And then by airing a commercial in which he said:

"Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize. As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault, and I pray for them. The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The truth is, rape has many victims. The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

In relation to the resulting furor over his original "legitimate rape" comment, Akin was quoted as saying:

"I talk about one word, one sentence, one day out of place, and, all of a sudden, the entire establishment turns on you."<ref>Dowd, Maureen, "Just Think No", New York Times op-ed, August 21, 2012. Retrieved 2012-08-22.</ref>


Template:See also Akin is a long time pro-life activist who has served on the board of Missouri Right to Life,<ref name="akinplatform">Todd Akin Senate Campaign 2012 web site, On the Issues: Life,, accessed 4 Nov 2012</ref> participated in (and been arrested as part of) anti-abortion demonstrations in Missouri and Illinois as far back as 1985,<ref name="arrested">Template:Cite news</ref> and sponsored or co-sponsored three anti-abortion bills in the House.<ref name="akinplatform" />

Akin's comments were believed to be based on pseudoscientific claims<ref name="pseudo" /><ref>Template:Cite news</ref> that have been rejected by reproductive health experts.<ref name="NYT-21-08-2012" /> The current scientific consensus is that rape is no less likely to lead to pregnancy than consensual intercourse.<ref name=CNN22-08-2012>Danielle Dellorto, Experts: Rape does not lower odds of pregnancy, CNN Health (22 August 2012)</ref><ref name=Reuters-20-08-2012>Sharon Begley and Susan Heavey, Rape trauma as barrier to pregnancy has no scientific basis, Reuters (20 August 2012).</ref><ref>Template:Cite news</ref><ref>Template:Cite news</ref><ref>Template:Cite news</ref><ref>Template:Cite news</ref>

Opponents of abortion have claimed that women have a biological reaction to rape that makes rape victims unlikely to get pregnant. In a 1972 article, anti-abortion Dr. Fred Mecklenburg argued that pregnancy is unlikely from rape because women are less likely to ovulate after trauma, an assertion for which he cited as evidence experiments in Nazi death camps.<ref>Template:Cite news</ref> Former president of the National Right to Life Committee and general practitioner John C. Willke, said rape victims are unlikely to get pregnant in a book published in 1985, in a 1999 article, and in a 2012 interview.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> These claims were dismissed by professors of obstetrics at Harvard Medical School and the University of North Carolina.<ref name="NYT-21-08-2012"/>

Pennsylvania state Republican representative Stephen Freind was one of the first legislators to make the argument that rape prevents pregnancy, claiming in 1988 that the odds of a pregnancy resulting from rape were "one in millions and millions and millions."<ref name="Freind" /><ref>Template:Cite news</ref> Similar claims were made by Republican Henry Aldridge of the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1995.<ref name="canard" /><ref name='AP0395'>Template:Cite news</ref>

Akin cosponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act which would have conferred full legal personhood on embryos beginning at fertilization or cloning. He was also an original cosponsor of bills recognizing only "forcible" rape<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref> to narrow access to federal funding for abortions. Under the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, as introduced, "victims of statutory rape ... would be on their own. So would victims of incest if they’re over 18. And ... 'forcible rape' ... seems certain to exclude ... cases where a woman is drugged or has a limited mental capacity."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>


Akin's remarks were strongly condemned by some Republicans. Mitt Romney said they were "inexcusable, insulting, and frankly, wrong."<ref name="romney 1" /> and called for Akin to step down, as did Paul Ryan.<ref>Template:Cite news</ref> The National Republican Senatorial Committee said that "if he continues with this misguided campaign, it will be without the support and resources of the NRSC." Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Akin's remarks were "totally inexcusable" and "wildly offensive". Conservative commentators Sean Hannity, Charles Krauthammer, and Mark Levin all called for Akin to step aside, as did the editorial teams of the Wall Street Journal and National Review,<ref>Template:Cite news</ref> and nine sitting US Senators, along with all four former Republican Missouri Senators: John Danforth, Kit Bond, James Talent and John Ashcroft and also serving Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt.<ref name="resignation demands" /><ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Fellow Republican Congressmen and Senate hopefuls Jeff Flake and Denny Rehberg further added their names to those calling for his resignation.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Republican super PAC American Crossroads announced it would be cutting off all aid to Akin's candidacy.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

After Akin cancelled an interview on the CNN show Piers Morgan Tonight, host Piers Morgan spoke to the empty chair meant for Akin and denounced him as "a gutless little twerp".<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

There were multiple calls from Republicans for him to step down as nominee. The Washington Post reported a "stampede" of Republicans dissociating from Akin as part of damage control, with NRSC chairman John Cornyn saying the GOP would no longer provide him Senate election funding and describing Akin as "endangering Republicans’ hopes of retaking the majority in the Senate".<ref>Template:Cite news</ref> A campaign spokesman for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan said both disagreed with Akin's position and would not oppose abortion in instances of rape. Ryan reportedly called Akin to advise him to step aside.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> RNC Chairman Reince Priebus warned Akin not to attend the upcoming 2012 Republican convention and said he should resign the nomination. He described Akin's comments as "biologically stupid" and "bizarre" and said that "This is not mainstream talk that he's referring to and his descriptions of whatever an illegitimate rape is. We're hoping he hears [these calls to drop out of the race]".<ref name="GOP chair" /><ref>Template:Cite web</ref> According to The Hill, "prominent conservative bloggers" urged Akin to drop out, while "influential conservative voices" such as Erick Erickson and Richard Grenell tweeted that Akin was dropping out, the latter of which was interpreted by The Hill as a way of pressuring Akin to drop out of the race.<ref name="The Hill">Template:Cite web</ref>

Akin was defended by some social conservative organizations, including the Family Research Council. A spokesman for the Council said that "We feel this is a case of gotcha politics... We know who Todd Akin is. We've worked with him up on the hill. He's a defender of life."<ref name="defense" /> Akin's remarks were also defended by the evangelical Christian activist Kirk Cameron.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> A representative of the American Family Association cited Willke's 1999 article to argue Akin "was exactly right".<ref name="NYT-21-08-2012"/> Pro-life theologian Pia de Solenni called Akin's remarks "idiotic", but also claimed that there is "no solid data" on the question of whether rape inhibits pregnancy, and opined that it was not a "far stretch [from effects of long-term stress on fertility] to wonder if women who are raped might have a lesser rate of pregnancy resulting from the rape".<ref>Pia de Solenni, "Responding To Akin: When Pro-Lifers Do The Work For Abortion Advocates", blog posting (21 August 2012).</ref> Robert Fleischmann, director of pro-life group Christian Life Resources, similarly argued that Akin's point was plausible but lacked data ("I have yet to see a study that demonstrates some sort of contraceptive effect from a rape. I do believe, however, it is not an unwarranted conclusion." and "Statistically speaking, it appears something happens in a rape, either with the victim or with the perpetrator, that reduces the incidence of pregnancy.").<ref>Robert Fleischmann, Rape, Pregnancy, and the Akin Controversy, Christian Life Resources (21 August 2012).</ref> In response to Republican demands that Akin resign, Personhood USA spokeswoman Jennifer Mason said that Akin's position "is an integral part of the Republican Party platform, the same position that was held by President Ronald Reagan" and that "[we] are left with Reagan Republicans, who agree with the Republican Party platform on abortion, and Romney Republicans, a fringe group of liberals who compromise on human life."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Mike Huckabee supported Akin by soliciting donations for his Senate campaign and accusing the "Republican establishment" of a "carefully orchestrated and systematic attack."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Akin's Senate opponent, Claire McCaskill, released a statement stating, "It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape.....The ideas that Todd Akin has expressed about the serious crime of rape and the impact on its victims are offensive."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

President Barack Obama also responded to Akin's comments by saying "Rape is rape....And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we're talking about doesn't make sense to the American people and certainly doesn't make sense to me."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Akin gave two radio interviews in which he stated that he was in the race to win. On The Sean Hannity Show, he stated "I was told that there is a decision has to be made by 5 o'clock tomorrow but I was calling you and letting you know that I'm announcing today that we're (staying) in."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> On the Mike Huckabee show he stated, "Rape is never legitimate... I used the wrong words in the wrong way."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

On August 26 the Republican political consultant Mary Matalin said on ABC ThisWeek that Republicans would "run a write-in" candidate to defeat Akin, and would "transfer the money" if necessary.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

The Republican political consultant Karl Rove, at a briefing to wealthy donors on August 30, joked that "We should sink Todd Akin. If he's found mysteriously murdered, don’t look for my whereabouts!" and urged attendees to press Akin to drop out. "We have five people who are interested ... We don’t care who the nominee is, other than get Akin out."<ref>Template:Cite news</ref>

Political impact

Political analysts from the New York Times and the Washington Post said that the comments had the potential to swing the United States Senate election in Missouri, 2012.<ref>Template:Cite news</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Akin's comments sparked a renewed focus on the so-called Republican "War on Women".<ref>Template:Cite news</ref><ref>Template:Cite news</ref><ref>Template:Cite news</ref><ref>Template:Cite news</ref> Political analysts have pointed out Akin's cosponsorship of anti-abortion bills with vice presidential candidate Ryan<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref> and the Obama campaign has "attempt[ed] to link the Wisconsin lawmaker to controversial remarks Akin made about about rape."<ref>Obama Hits Ryan on Bill's 'Forcible Rape' Language Christian Broadcast News. Thursday, August 23, 2012</ref> Businessweek stated that the incident will draw attention to the fact that the national platform of the GOP "allow[s] no exception for terminating pregnancies caused by rape."<ref>Republican Platform Panel Backs Blanket Ban on Abortion Businessweek James Rowley August 22, 2012</ref> It also led to a focus on other GOP candidates' positions on rape and abortion; Tom Smith, a candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, was criticized for saying that pregnancy out of wedlock was "similar" to rape in response to a question about abortion exceptions for rape, a question that he might not have been asked had Akin's controversial comments not brought GOP rape views into the public eye.<ref>The Fruits of Todd Akin: Pennsylvania Edition</ref> Richard Mourdock, Senate candidate from Indiana, similarly was criticized for stating that pregnancy from rape was "something that God intended to happen."<ref name="under">Template:Cite news</ref> The event was seen as hurting the Republicans' chances to win over swing voters, by highlighting their controversial positions on social issues rather than the economic issues they hoped to emphasize.<ref name=""/>

A national poll conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion showed that 84% of Americans disagreed with Akin's comments about "legitimate rape", and that 63% wanted him to drop out of the U.S. Senate race.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> A poll released August 23 by Rasmussen Reports showed a steep drop in support for Akin among Missouri voters with McCaskill leading Akin in this poll by roughly 10 points in a sharp reversal of Akin's earlier lead.<ref>Rasmussen Reports (August 23rd, 2012). Election 2012: Missouri Senate. Retrieved 2012-8-23</ref><ref>Silver, Nate (August 23rd, 2012). Voters Could Sit Out Missouri Senate RaceThe New York Times. Retrieved 2012-8-23</ref>

A poll released August 24 showed that Mitt Romney's previous lead over Barack Obama among Missouri voters had "vanished", with the two presidential candidates tied within the margin of error.<ref>Rasmussen Reports (August 24th, 2012). Election 2012: Missouri President. Retrieved 2012-8-25</ref>

According to Charles Babington of the Associated Press, the incident highlighted the long-running tension between the social conservative and more moderate, corporate factions of the Republican party. According to Babington, social conservatives were angered by the criticism directed at Akin by more moderate Republicans such as Mitt Romney. In the wake of Romney's and other Republican leaders calls for Akin to quit the senate race, socially conservative Republican Mike Huckabee, for example, called the National Republican Senatorial Committee "union goons."<ref>Babington, Charles, Associated Press, "Analysis: Akin row shows GOP's social-fiscal rift", Yahoo! News, 27 August 2012</ref>

Akin Plank

Following the controversy over Akin's remarks concerning "legitimate rape", Democrats began calling a platform provision at the 2012 Republican National Convention that calls for a "human life amendment" to the Constitution which bans abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest the "Akin Plank".<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="Rep Plank opposes">Template:Cite web</ref> The text of the plank does not mention rape, and is not different from planks adopted in 2008 and 2004. A Romney campaign spokeswomen, Amanda Henneberg, stated Romney "opposes abortion with exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother."<ref name="Rep Plank opposes"/>



See also

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