Rep. Todd Akin, pictured with his grandchildren after winning the GOP Senate… (Christian Gooden / MCT )
The leading candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri apparently learned reproductive biology from scholarship dating back to King John and Magna Carta, but that's not what's really scary about the story of GOP Rep. Todd Akin.
Akin set off a tempest Sunday when a TV interviewer inquired about his views on abortion in cases of rape. "It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, [that pregnancy resulting from rape is] really rare," Akin said. "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."
One wonders which doctors Akin has been consulting; apparently, it's the kind who wear cowls on their heads and spend most of their time swirling urine samples around in a flask in search of black bile and other ill humors. Deep in the Middle Ages, it was thought that women could only conceive if they had an orgasm -- thus, it followed that if a woman enjoyed the intercourse, she couldn't possibly have been raped. Vanessa Heggie in The Guardian traced the legal theory generated by this philosphy back to 13th century England and a very early legal text called "Fleta," which states, "If, however, the woman should have conceived in the time alleged in the appeal, it abates, for without a woman's consent she could not conceive."
The pro-life set apparently has a more modern take on this idea, but its scientific illegitimacy -- and the stunning degree to which it denigrates women and rape victims -- remain pretty obvious. Nonetheless, Akin will probably survive the controversy. But that's still not what's scary about this story.
Akin has retracted his statement via Tweet, which won't stop his opponent, incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, from continuing to hammer him for it. Yet McCaskill is up against deep-seated voter anger at incumbents, and until recently Akin was leading her by several percentage points in the polls. His religious conservative backers won't be bothered in the least by his statements on rape, which for them only enhance his anti-abortion credentials. The Missouri race will remain one of the most closely watched Senate contests in the country, and it will likely be close in November.
So what's so scary about Todd Akin? It's that he currently sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, which oversees federal spending on non-defense-related research. This is not the kind of post for someone who thinks pregnancy can be suppressed by women's bodies. He also sits on the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, which is not the ideal assignment for a guy who thinks that climate change, if it's happening at all, is probably a result of solar flares. This is, of course, the House the tea party built. Unless voters put a stop to this anti-science movement, the Senate could soon go the same way. Now that's a nightmare.
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