Todd Akin, His Foot-in-Mouth Fiasco, and the Unspoken Truths Behind it

Elizabeth Hicks Martinez
The media is all a-flutter with Todd Akin's faux pas. There is much commentary, though intersperesed among some genuine nuggets of clarity. (An excellent nugget is Ramesh Ponnuru's "Why His Remarks Were So Offensive.")  The opinionated on both the right and the left have been tangling his remarks into a stew of ideas, focusing on the various individual trees that obscure the forest. Yet without continuing to flog Mr. Akin's clumsy wording and medical inaccuracy about women's bodies "shutting down" during a rape, one can nevertheless tease out of his remarks, and the reactions to them, the following legitimate questions: A. Is it inconsistent for pro-life advocates to approve an exception for rape? B. Is opposition to the rape exception inhumane and extreme, tantamount to "requiring victimized women to raise the child of their rapist"? C. Is it possible to pass pro-life legislation that does not have the rape-or-incest exception?

To answer question A, many strongly pro-life individuals (such as Mitt Romney) support the rape-or-incest exception; it is very nearly a mainstream pro-life position. There is a sense in which it is inconsistent, but more about that later.

With regard to B, the argument about "requiring" women to "raise their rapist's baby" is the ubiquitous straw-man argument, bandied about whenever the subject comes up. The answer that should be given by serious pro-life advocates is that the most logical and courageous thing is to place the child for adoption. I have worked with a number of rape victims who did so. They almost universally spoke of a sense of healing, of victory, which could be summarized in this way: "The rapist did not win. Instead, I won; the child won; life won. The child I bore has the blessing of life. A family has the blessing of a child. And I did a good and courageous thing."

That said, if I had a young daughter that was a rape victim, hysterical at the prospect of carrying and bearing a child she had conceived, I might be tempted to invoke the "rape exception." At the same time, I pray that I -- that she -- would not. If I facilitated the abortion choice for my daughter, I would not feel "justified." I fear that she, too, would, in time, feel more haunted than healed.

With respect to item C, it is very difficult to pass pro-life legislation that does not have the exception for rape or incest. Therefore, insisting that such legislation have no such exception is a perfect illustration of Voltaire's adage, "The perfect is the enemy of the good." Morally speaking, a child conceived through rape -- or, of course, incest -- has as sacred a right to life as any other. People who work with women in such circumstances should present the adoption option lovingly, gently, as a decision for life wherein the victimized woman elects to give life to the baby and to give the blessing of a baby to a loving family. Yet pragmatically, politically, the abortion exception is likely to save lives by getting more pro-life laws passed.

Thus, politically, Akin blew it. He gave our opponents more weapons with which to attack Republicans, conservatives, and the pro-life movement in general. It is possible to agree with Akin's underlying meaning, to respect him as a decent man, and still believe that, for the good of the party and the cause, he should step down. The Democrats are quite skillful at muddying the debate unaided, without muddy language being provided to them by Republicans.

The media is all a-flutter with Todd Akin's faux pas. There is much commentary, though intersperesed among some genuine nuggets of clarity. (An excellent nugget is Ramesh Ponnuru's "Why His Remarks Were So Offensive.")  The opinionated on both the right and the left have been tangling his remarks into a stew of ideas, focusing on the various individual trees that obscure the forest. Yet without continuing to flog Mr. Akin's clumsy wording and medical inaccuracy about women's bodies "shutting down" during a rape, one can nevertheless tease out of his remarks, and the reactions to them, the following legitimate questions: A. Is it inconsistent for pro-life advocates to approve an exception for rape? B. Is opposition to the rape exception inhumane and extreme, tantamount to "requiring victimized women to raise the child of their rapist"? C. Is it possible to pass pro-life legislation that does not have the rape-or-incest exception?

To answer question A, many strongly pro-life individuals (such as Mitt Romney) support the rape-or-incest exception; it is very nearly a mainstream pro-life position. There is a sense in which it is inconsistent, but more about that later.

With regard to B, the argument about "requiring" women to "raise their rapist's baby" is the ubiquitous straw-man argument, bandied about whenever the subject comes up. The answer that should be given by serious pro-life advocates is that the most logical and courageous thing is to place the child for adoption. I have worked with a number of rape victims who did so. They almost universally spoke of a sense of healing, of victory, which could be summarized in this way: "The rapist did not win. Instead, I won; the child won; life won. The child I bore has the blessing of life. A family has the blessing of a child. And I did a good and courageous thing."

That said, if I had a young daughter that was a rape victim, hysterical at the prospect of carrying and bearing a child she had conceived, I might be tempted to invoke the "rape exception." At the same time, I pray that I -- that she -- would not. If I facilitated the abortion choice for my daughter, I would not feel "justified." I fear that she, too, would, in time, feel more haunted than healed.

With respect to item C, it is very difficult to pass pro-life legislation that does not have the exception for rape or incest. Therefore, insisting that such legislation have no such exception is a perfect illustration of Voltaire's adage, "The perfect is the enemy of the good." Morally speaking, a child conceived through rape -- or, of course, incest -- has as sacred a right to life as any other. People who work with women in such circumstances should present the adoption option lovingly, gently, as a decision for life wherein the victimized woman elects to give life to the baby and to give the blessing of a baby to a loving family. Yet pragmatically, politically, the abortion exception is likely to save lives by getting more pro-life laws passed.

Thus, politically, Akin blew it. He gave our opponents more weapons with which to attack Republicans, conservatives, and the pro-life movement in general. It is possible to agree with Akin's underlying meaning, to respect him as a decent man, and still believe that, for the good of the party and the cause, he should step down. The Democrats are quite skillful at muddying the debate unaided, without muddy language being provided to them by Republicans.