Rape, Abortion, and the Privilege of Magical Thinking

Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin recently offered his thoughts on abortion in the instances of rape:

"First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare," Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." 

Akin said that even in the worst-case scenario -- when the supposed natural protections against unwanted pregnancy fail -- abortion should still not be a legal option for the rape victim. 

"Let's assume that maybe that didn't work, or something," Akin said. "I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
I like the phrase "shut that whole thing down." There's something unintentionally Orwellian about it. 

At any rate, I think what's interesting here is the assumed power. I have the right to objectively define pregnancy from rape as rare. I have the right to determine separate legitimate rape from all those instances when you were in need of encouragement, wearing a red dress or otherwise asking for it. I have the right to manufacture scientific theories about your body -- theories which reinforce my power. If the body doesn't "shut that whole thing down" then clearly you weren't raped, and there's no need to talk about an abortion. And even if I am wrong on every count, I still have the right to dictate the terms of your body and the remaining days of your life.

All of my rationales range from the totally subjective to the outright mythical. But I am the sovereign of the female body. On my word rumor becomes science, and the destruction of your life is repackaged as the defense of someone else's.

When the storm came, as it should have, Akin claimed he misspoke. He did did no such thing. As Garance points out, the theory of the rape fairy is old hat in Akin's circles. Here's Garance quoting from a Pennsylvania state rep in 1988:
The odds that a woman who is raped will get pregnant are "one in millions and millions and millions," said state Rep. Stephen Freind, R-Delaware County, the Legislature's leading abortion foe. The reason, Freind said, is that the traumatic experience of rape causes a woman to "secrete a certain secretion" that tends to kill sperm:

Whatever qualms I have about abortion (and increasingly I think it isn't even my right to have qualms) the idea of putting medicine in the hands of people who think that, in the instance of rape, the female body can "shut that whole thing down" or "secrete a certain secretion" to prevent pregnancy is utterly terrifying.

Essentially these dudes are answering medical questions by citing magic.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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