AUGUST 20, 2012
Representative Todd Akin, the Republican challenger to Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, is in trouble for announcing that a the odds of a woman becoming pregnant from "legitimate rape" are vanishingly small. "If it's a legitimate rape,” Akin explained in a weekend TV interview, "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
The damage to Akin has been appropriately profound. No less a figure than Mitt Romney has issued the requisite disavowal of Akin’s words. (No sign yet that Romney is not OK with his running mate’s actual actions to prevent rape victims from receiving abortions…) Various Republicans are now calling for Akin to bow out of the race. Even if he sticks around, the remark could cost him the election anyway. (Before this weekend, polls predicted that he would beat McCaskill this November.)
Like a lot of pols, Akin's apologies come with a self-exculpatory caveat: Everyone does it! On one stop on his apology tour, Akin told Mike Huckabee, "I don't know that I'm the only person in public office that suffers from foot and mouth disease here." On this question, unlike on the subject of reproductive biology, Akin happens to be right. With his comment, he joined a pantheon of idiot politicians who have said abhorrent things about rape and rape victims.
Below, a list of five other clowns who have done the same.
1. Clayton Williams: "Just relax and enjoy it."
Part of Clayton Williams’s whopping fall from grace in the 1990 Texas gubernatorial election was a nasty joke he told to reporters at his ranch about rape. From a 1990 New York Times article: "[Clayton] Williams made the remark … while preparing for a cattle roundup at his West Texas ranch. He compared the cold, foggy weather spoiling the event to a rape, telling ranch hands, campaign workers and reporters around a campfire, 'If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.'" Williams lost to Ann Richards eight months later.
2. Sharron Angle: Rape is God’s plan.
The GOP Senate nominee who came within a hair of beating Sen. Harry Reid in 2010 once affirmed that if you are a victim of rape who has become pregnant as a result, you just need to "have a little faith." When a radio host asked her, in January 2010, whether she believed in abortion for cases or rape or incest, she responded, "You know, I’m a Christian, and I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things."
Angle doubled down months later, when she responded to a hypothetical question about a case of incest that resulted in a pregnancy with an anecdote about a 15-year-old she had apparently counseled to have her baby: "[T]hey found that they had made what was really a lemon situation into lemonade." Idaho lawmaker Brent Crane put this same logic to work in 2011.
3. Ken Buck: Rape victim had "buyer’s remorse"
Five years before he was the Republican challenger to incumbent Senator Michael Bennet, Ken Buck, as a district attorney, declined to prosecute a rapist for less-than-solid reasons. To wit: Although the assailant in question admitted to police that his victim had had told him, "No," before he raped her, Buck concluded that the facts of the case were enough to convince a jury that the victim was merely experiencing "buyer’s remorse." He also appeared to blame her for the assault in a conversation she taped and leaked to the media. Buck only narrowly lost to Bennet.
4. Kathleen Passidomo: Well, she was dressed like a prostitute.
Early last year, Republican state legislator in Florida Kathleen Passidomo ascribed her support for a school dress code bill to its ability to keep slutty girls with irresponsible parents from getting raped. From the Tampa Bay Times: "There was an article about an 11-year-old girl who was gang raped in Texas by 18 young men because she was dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute," she said. "And her parents let her attend school like that. And I think it’s incumbent upon us to create some areas where students can be safe in school and show up in proper attire so what happened in Texas doesn’t happen to our students."
5. Steve King: "They don’t even know what they’re talking about."
When he voted against a bill to expand the power of Native American law enforcement to investigate rape on tribal lands, Rep. Steve King of Iowa declined to say why. But he did have some choice words for the many female Native Americans who protested outside of his local congressional office: "This is completely a campaign stunt, and it should be viewed as that. … They don’t even know what law they’re talking about."
Bonus Round: Over at The Atlantic, Garance Franke-Ruta has compiled a rich collection of lawmakers who have argued—very, very erroneously—that the female body has ‘natural defenses’ against rape, rendering rape exceptions in abortion laws unnecessary. The argument may be biologically dubious, but it's become part of the ideological armor defending no-exceptions anti-choice laws. A sample:
In 1995, 71-year-old North Carolina state Rep. Henry Aldridge gained national notoriety after telling the N.C. House Appropriations Committee, "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. Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever."
His argument came during a debate over "a proposal to eliminate a state abortion fund for poor women," according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
In 1980, attorney James Leon Holmes wrote, in a letter arguing for a constitutional ban on abortion, "Concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.”