Earlier this week, Dave Weigel noted that Rep. Todd Akin’s misguided theories about rape came from “John Willke — [who] had argued that the female body produces ‘a very sophisticated mix of hormones’ under stress, and that this miracle cocktail might stop a raped woman from getting pregnant.”
Akin was obviously wrong about that. And this is an important point for conservatives to accept (I don’t know anyone who clings to Willkie’s notion, but they probably exist.) As Thomas Aquinas said, “The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.”
Willkie and Akin have done precisely what Aquinas warned against, and thus, have harmed to their own cause.
I’m not alone in making this point. As the DC Examiner opines,
The sin that has destroyed Akin’s career is not his position on abortion. It is his callous and ignorant comments about rape, delivered with such arrogant certainty. Men and women far wiser than Akin have argued simply that the tragedy of rape is only compounded by the subsequent taking of an innocent life. It may be a minority position, but it is also one deeply held by tens of millions of Americans, and it doesn’t require any belief in Akin’s junk science. (Emphasis mine.)
* * *
Akin, of course, would have been much better off not being lured into the exceptions debate in the first place. Politicians aren’t pundits or professors — and they shouldn’t pretend they are. There is a good reason why strategists want them to be boring and stick to talking point. (I am under no such compulsion here, of course.)
The exceptions debate is fraught with danger. Exceptions are a political compromise made by pro-lifers who want to save lives. Exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother remove the most compelling objections pro-choicers have in their arsenal against pro-life policies. As the Examiner notes, “[I]f the abortion debate were to reach a consensus on banning abortion, but with exceptions for rape and incest, it would cover nearly 99 percent of cases.” (Emphasis mine.)
Politics is messy. Compromise is messy. And the problem with exceptions are that they are intellectually inconsistent with the belief that all life is precious and that life begins at conception. That’s the obvious rub. Pro-lifers win when they talk about life — but lose when they talk about exceptions. And so the smart political move is probably to avoid talking about exceptions. And in terms of policy, most pro-lifers I know would gladly accept such a compromise in order to save unborn lives.
But Akin took the bait.
* * *
As I noted yesterday, epistemic closure is probably part of the reason he was susceptible to parroting Willkie’s junk science. As an incumbent Congressman, he was used to getting his way and not being contradicted. As a Congressman from a safe and insulated district, he probably had a false sense of security. And because his family ran his campaign, there weren’t any professional outsiders around to set him straight.
Having said that, Akin might ironically have been slightly better off if he had hewed more closely to Willkie’s exact terminology. As Willkie wrote in 1999,
First, let’s define the term “rape.” When pro-lifers speak of rape pregnancies, we should commonly use the phrase “forcible rape” or “assault rape,” for that specifies what we’re talking about. Rape can also be statutory. Depending upon your state law, statutory rape can be consensual, but we’re not addressing that here.
It’s an aside, and certainly not a winning political argument, but Wilkie has a point regarding the distinction between, say, statutory rape versus what Whoopi Goldberg has termed, “Rape Rape.”
Rather than calling it “legitimate rape,” Akin might have been better off saying “forcible rape.” (There is a distinction. As this Reason video illustrates, two teenagers having consensual sex can constitute a statutory rape. In this instance, the boyfriend went to jail, the couple later got married — and are still married 10 years later — yet the man is now registered as a sex offender.)
Ultimately, this has been a mess. The only good that can perhaps come from this is for pro-life politicians to eschew junk science, and become better at defending their entirely defensible and mainstream positions regarding the right to life.