Commentary Magazine


Akin’s Crime Against Pro-Lifers

So Todd Akin, the senatorial candidate in Missouri, has made a commercial apologizing for his remarks on rape and pregnancy on Sunday. ”Rape is an evil act,” he says. “I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize. As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault. I pray for them. The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The truth is, rape has many victims. The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.”

One has reason to think this apology is disingenuous. For one thing, it’s doubtful he would have issued it had the video of him discoursing on “legitimate rape” and the mystical ability of a woman’s body to repel a rapist’s seed not become a subject of controversy. For another, as always with politicians, what tells is the phrasing. “The mistake was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold” places the blame for his error on “the words,” as though the words were somehow separate from him. Whereas “the heart I hold” is intrinsic to him, and therefore to be taken more seriously  (and by the way, who exactly “holds” a heart?).

What strikes me, though, is the offense Todd Akin has given—not just to victims of rape, but to his fellow pro-lifers. The most difficult moral issue when it comes to abortion comes with cases of pregnancy due to rape and incest. (These are, relative to all live births, extraordinarily small in number.) The pregnancy in such circumstances is not only unwanted but the result of a barbaric and traumatic criminal attack. And yet consistent pro-lifers argue such pregnancies should not be ended by abortion. This is usually held up as an example of their fanaticism, or their cruelty, or their desire to punish women, or some other charge.

In fact, though, it is precisely when it comes to these most difficult cases that the underlying philosophy of the pro-life movement finds its moral strength. They argue that the unborn possess an independent right to life, that one would and should not do to them in the womb what would never be done to them one second after they were born alive. Wanted or unwanted, conceived in love or in violence, they are ensouled and they are people.

This is not a conviction I share, but it is a conviction for which I have enormous respect. Now comes along Todd Akin, and he has good news! No need to worry about those pesky hard cases, that pregnancy-by-rape stuff! Don’t bother yourself over that! He talked to a doctor, and the doctor said when a woman is legitimately raped, her body will act in ways to prevent that pregnancy from happening! So if there’s a pregnancy by rape, you can be pretty sure it’s not really rape, but something less…legitimate.

In one offhand stroke, then, Todd Akin not only offended all thinking people with his nonsense bilge—he was also selling snake oil to his own comrades in the pro-life battle. For that they should despise him.