The politics of abortion is one of those areas where the combination of emotions and absolute disagreement on one fundamental matter--when personhood actually begins--causes both sides to talk past one another and arguments result in merely preaching to one's own choir. There's no point in discussing a woman's right to do what she wants with her body with someone who believes that what she wants to do amounts to killing a child, and there's no point in discussing the rights of a fetus with someone who believes that fetus isn't a "life" yet.
While this is true of the two sides generally, there's also a great deal of gray area that many Americans fall into--a lot of self-identified "pro-lifers" are fine with some restrictions on abortion, and not others, and likewise a number of "pro-choicers" that come down about the same. This is why restrictions on "late term" abortions are more widely popular than a complete ban on abortions, or why some voters are fine with abortion but favor parental notification laws. The gray area is where most policy fights have taken place since Roe v. Wade. And that brings us to the infamous "rape exception."
It is common to hear from pro-life politicians that they are opposed to abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or a threat to the life of the mother. (Why "incest" is called out I'm not sure--after all, if the incest wasn't a result of a rape, are we okay with the abortion simply because the conception itself was icky? Couldn't we also include an exception for "creepy couples"?) The rape exception is justified in that if the mother was raped then she didn't have any choice in getting pregnant so it would be particularly cruel to require her to carry the child to term.
In the more fundamental pro-life view, though, rape should not provide an exception--only the risk of the birth to the mother should justify an abortion. The thinking goes like this--awful as the rape was, and as traumatic to the mother as it would be to give birth to the child resulting from the crime, it does not justify killing the child due to the circumstances of its conception. It is this more extreme pro-life point of view that prompted Missouri Rep. Todd Akin's comments about "legitimate rapes."
There's a lot wrong with Akin's comments--that "legitimate" rapes usually don't cause pregnancy because the woman's body has natural excretions that kill the sperm during the trauma of the rape, and that therefore "rape pregnancies" are not the common problem the media makes them out to be. First, the term "legitimate" raises the question of what "illegitimate" rapes are. Is Akin suggesting that women wanting abortions will fake a rape claim in order to get the exception if abortions are made illegal? If so, it does shed light on a problem with the "rape exception" itself, as well as a general abortion ban--in that case, the government finds itself in the messy situation of challenging rape claims prior to allowing abortions. Considering how well government does everything else, do we really want to go there?
But giving Akin the benefit of the doubt, he may have meant to distinguish "forcible" rapes--presumably those with physical struggles--from nonviolent rapes (statutory rape, Polanski rape, rapes involving druggings) where the woman's body will not automatically come up with excretions that kill the sperm. At least, let's consider that this is what was going on in Akin's head when he gave this interview.
I'm no doctor, but this is the first time I have ever heard of this theory about the female body having a natural defense against rape pregnancies. Perhaps I will be surprised by a number of medical experts coming out to back up Todd Akin's theory--but I highly doubt it. More likely this guy is a bit crazy and more than a little insensitive towards rape victims.
The Republicans of course have (with a few exceptions) roundly denounced Rep. Akin, in part because he is currently their nominee for the U.S. Senate who was a favorite to win the seat until this mess--the Republicans have a decent chance to gaining a majority of the seats in the Senate this year--and in part because it takes the GOP off of its key message (that the economy sucks thanks to Obama). So far, Akin's resisted the calls for him to drop out and let them pick another candidate.
And he shouldn't drop out. While his comments were both ludicrous and offensive, and his stance on abortion (and other issues) extreme even for a pro-lifer, he did win his party's primary fair and square. They knew what sort of person he was--none of this is really a revelation--and nominated him anyway. He didn't suddenly admit to a crime or anything--so the only reason for him to drop out is because he might hurt his party in this year's elections. They can't really say they didn't know what they were getting.
Well, that's the party that the GOP has become--maybe Republican voters need to think a bit more when they nominate their candidates.