The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

The Todd Akin Fiasco: When Scientific Ignorance and Religious Extremism Rule Politics

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 22, 2012

Unless you’ve been sitting under a rock for the last few days, you know about the brouhaha surrounding the comments by the Republican candidate for the Missouri U.S. Senate seat, Congressman Todd Akin.  Just in case you haven’t heard/seen them, here are his comments on abortion and rape which (rightly so) have created a storm of controversy:

Wow… the words almost escape me… almost.  At the very least, Congressman Akin displays an appalling lack of scientific knowledge regarding rape and pregnancy (this despite the fact that he is on the U.S. House Committee on Science *facepalm*).  To understand just how scientifically ignorant he is with his “legitimate rape” and “women’s bodies can shut that [pregnancy due to rape] down” comments, take a look at this medical study on the issue (Hint: pregnancy due to rape isn’t “very rare”, as Congressman Akin asserts).

So how is it that a Congressman on the House Science Committee (did I *facepalm* already?) has such an out-of-touch and ignorant view of science?  I think part of the answer is Akin’s religious ideology, which he shares with a number of social/religious conservatives in the United States.  It ends up that this “legitimate rape” and related myths are not that uncommon among that demographic; take a look at these examples:

‘Legitimate Rape’? Todd Akin and Other Politicians Who Confused Science

The Official Guide to Legitimate Rape

‘God’s Little Shield’: A Short History Of The False No-Pregnancy-From-Rape Theory

Doctor behind Todd Akin’s rape theory was a Romney surrogate in 2007

And my absolute favorite, religious right-wing groups such as the American Family Association and the Family Research Council are fervently defending Congressman Akin’s ignorance in favor of their twisted religious worldview:

Bryan Fischer: Todd Akin is ‘Absolutely Right’

As reported earlier, American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer is jumping to Todd Akin’s defense over his claim that “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy. Fischer today said that the trauma of a “real, genuine rape, a case of forcible rape,” would “make it impossible for her or difficult in that particular circumstance to conceive a child.” Of course, rape does not make pregnancy either impossible or unlikely, and there are other types of rape than “forcible rape,” such as statutory rape or cases where consent isn’t offered or is impossible.

Family Research Council’s Connie Mackey is also defending Akin in an email to members:

“This is another case of ‘gotcha politics’ against a conservative leader. Todd Akin has a long and distinguished record of defending women, children and families. He has fought against forcing taxpayers to subsidize abortion giant Planned Parenthood, which is the bedrock of Claire McCaskill’s base of support. When speaking about the issue of rape, let’s not forget the cover-up of statutory rape by Planned Parenthood, which to my knowledge has not been addressed by Senator McCaskill.

“Throughout his twelve years in Congress, Todd Akin has supported legislation that honors all human life. He has opposed the commodification of women in contrast to his opponent, Claire McCaskill, who has a long record of promoting the abortion industry while ignoring how abortion harms women. We know Todd Akin, and FRC Action PAC enthusiastically endorses his candidacy,” Mackey concluded

While many Republicans, including prospective presidential candidate Mitt Romney and vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, have disavowed or distanced themselves from Akin and his comments, it is worth noting that merely two days after his remarks, the Republican party committee codified Akin’s position on opposition to abortion (that is, no exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother… at least they didn’t include the “legitimate rape” language – the committee apparently isn’t that far down the rabbit hole):

Even as Mitt Romney sought to quash the furor surrounding Todd Akin’s “legitimate” rape comments, the Republican platform committee here approved an abortion plank that includes no exemptions for rape, incest or even to save the life of the mother.

The platform committee instead approved draft language Tuesday, calling for a “Human Life Amendment” that gives legal protection to the unborn. Democrats quickly labeled the GOP language the “Akin Plank,” referring to the Missouri Senate candidate’s statements that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant.

On Tuesday, not one of the 100-plus members on the GOP platform committee introduced amendments. They kept the identical language from 2004 and 2008. …

So why the hell would the Republican party run away from Akin’s despicable comments on the one hand and then turn around and endorse such a plank in their party platform?  My guess is that cynical politics is driving this twisted turn of events.

I think the national Republican party is raking Akin over the coals for one simple reason: because he was stupid enough to say something out loud on camera which much of the GOP’s hard core religious right base believes. And they’re pissed off at Akin because he is putting their chances of winning back the Senate into serious jeopardy and hurting the presidential race by getting them off message.

Whether or not the GOP establishment believes in the idiocy spewed by Akin is irrelevant, in my opinion. They have catered to the religious right for decades, stoking them into a frenzy at every opportunity to get them out to vote, even going so far as to offer cynical “personhood amendments” and extreme stances like their current anti-abortion platform (no exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life). They have done so because they have put themselves into a position where they cannot win without the religious nutbags, but they cringe at the possibility that these nutbags come out of the woodwork and show the rest of us in such an ugly public fashion just how nuts they really are…

… and when that happens, the GOP establishment tries to run away and act as if they don’t know who these people are… cry me a river, boys.

To cite a recent historical example: Remember the Terri Schiavo fiasco in 2005?  It’s the same kind of thing – when the GOP establishment thought they could get away with it, they went whole hog in the direction the extremists wanted to go. But then the tide of public opinion turned against them, and the Republicans were trying to ignore the inconvenient fact that they enabled these nutbags in the first place.

When people ask me why we shouldn’t mix politics and religion, I used to say “Terri Schiavo”; now I will add “Todd Akin” to that list.

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6 Responses to “The Todd Akin Fiasco: When Scientific Ignorance and Religious Extremism Rule Politics”

  1. Woody said

    Which is more disgusting? The religion-screwed nut who made these offensive, patently untrue claims, or the religion-screwed nuts who agreed with them, or the religion-screwed nuts who gave different versions of the claims in the name of damage control?
    Politics is already a dirty, soul sucking business without the dogmatic, primitive and depraved influence of religion.

  2. [...] Unless you’ve had your head buried in the mantle of the Earth this week, you probably heard what Missouri Congressman Todd Akin said about women’s bodies and rape. If you haven’t, my friend Matt Lowry at Skeptical Teacher has the lowdown. [...]

  3. [...] Unless you’ve had your head buried in the mantle of the Earth this week, you probably heard what Missouri Congressman Todd Akin said about women’s bodies and rape. If you haven’t, my friend Matt Lowry at Skeptical Teacher has the lowdown. [...]

  4. Phil said

    Just found your site and appreciate the takes. This constant lunacy from the right is disturbing. That a member of the science committee would even believe it is alarming. Alarming that nonsense thinking on science is part of the official party platform. This is no longer a difference of opinion, conservatives really live in a different reality.

  5. [...] Top Posts The Todd Akin Fiasco: When Scientific Ignorance and Religious Extremism Rule Politics [...]

  6. [...] with an interest in these two might enjoy the writings of a science teacher on Todd Akin and Paul [...]

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