Mike Kueber's Blog

August 21, 2012

Political correctness and legitimate rape

Filed under: Issues,Medical,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:33 pm
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The current 24-hour news cycle is being dominated by a Republican candidate, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, for one of Missouri’s seats in the U.S. Senate.  Akin earned the news spotlight by recently asserting that victims of “legitimate rape” are highly unlikely to get pregnant. Virtually everyone, including Akin’s congressional colleagues and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has vehemently rejected his statement and many have insisted that he abandon his senatorial campaign so that a substitute candidate can be selected to compete in November against the highly vulnerable Missouri senator, Claire McCaskill.    

Most early news reports focused on the outrage created by the statement and ignored the substance of the statement – i.e., what the hell is “legitimate rape.”  (Akin later clarified that he was referring to forcible rape.)  This failure of the media to address the substance of Akin’s statement reminded me of the political correctness that required condemnation, but not discussion, when Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder claimed that the breeding of slaves resulted in African-Americans being genetically advantaged to become world-class sprinters.

Today, however, the media seems to have finally gotten around to addressing the substance of the issue, but because political correctness so permeates American life, the best the media can do is state that there is no solid evidence supporting Akin’s assertion.  Unfortunately, there is little evidence contradicting it, either. 

An article in the New York Times today is typical.  The article refers to a doctor with the National Right to Life Committee (Dr. Wilkes) who essentially agrees with Akin – i.e., forcible rape will not result in pregnancy because trauma and fright will preclude fertilization.  To counter this argument, the Times article cites two doctors who call it “absurd” (Dr. Grimes)” and “nonsense… just nuts (Dr. Greene).” 

The argument takes the low road instead of the high road because of the dearth of evidence.  The Times article is able to cite only a single medical study, which concluded that 5% of raped women become pregnant, as compared to Dr. Wilkes’s assertion that only 1% get pregnant.  In response to this study, Dr. Greene says, “I’m not aware of any data that says [fright] reduces a woman’s risk of getting pregnant.”  Unfortunately, this does little to settle the argument.       

Time magazine this week also includes an op-ed column that attempts to address the substance of Akin’s assertion.  The column by Health & Science columnist Erika Christakis makes no pretense of being fair and objective by characterizing Akin’s assertion as bizarre and unscientific:

  • This embarrassing episode is only the latest in a long string of Republican rape canards that present a binary view of female sexuality where some women are deemed worthy of legislative sympathy while others are not.  The ignorance is reaching a new crescendo but it goes back decades.”

Christakis refers to a study that found pregnancy from a rape is more likely than pregnancy from consensual sex, but she thinks this is not the crux of the Akin brouhaha.  She is disturbed that some legislators, including VP candidate Paul Ryan, think forcible rape is more egregious than other types of rape (statutory, incest, etc.), and therefore its victim is entitled to more deference vis-a-vis abortions.  Her column concludes as follows:

  • But it’s a mistake to get mired in pregnancy rates….  There will always be nuance and ambiguity where pregnancy is concerned. That’s why many Americans have long preferred to stay out of first trimester abortion decisions, leaving them to a woman and her doctor, partner and conscience. People on all sides of the abortion debate should instead unite to prevent as many abortions as possible through comprehensive sex education; better access to family planning; improved support for adoption; and greater compassion for living, breathing parents and not only their unborn children. To this list, we might also add better science education for legislators.”

The problem with Christakis’s attempt to be reasonable is that, although “many Americans have long preferred to stay out of the first trimester abortion decisions,” that is certainly not true of Akins or his ilk.  They are fighting the signal moral fight of their lives.

And regarding her final point about better science education for legislators, such an education would be more accessible if academia were less reluctant to study politically incorrect, yet widely accepted statements.  Statements like “white men can’t jump.” 


p.s., according to USA Today today, Akin is going to tough it out and not drop out.


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