Quote of the day--The word you're looking for is "evil" edition

>> Tuesday, August 21, 2012

If you believe that a pregnancy becomes a full human person at the very instant of conception, how can any of these exceptions make sense? Follow the hard logic of a strict pro-life position, and Akin's view is where you end up. If I discover that my next-door neighbor was born of incest, I cannot wander over and shoot him dead. We don't apply capital punishment even to the rapist; why should his innocent child pay for his crimes with its life? As for life of the mother, Akin explained his view on that issue well: he urged doctors to "optimize" life, ie, sometimes to choose the mother, but sometimes to choose the child when the child's life seems more optimal.

These views may be shocking, but they are not stupid. With implacable logic, they derive from first principles. If anything, the logic of these views is tighter than the logic that leads the pro-life majority to favor the rape, incest, and life of the mother exceptions.
- David Frum, "Akin's Abortion View:
More Widespread in GOP Than You Think"
The Daily Beast, August 20th, 2012.

I'm showing up late for the party because I really didn't think anything needed to be said about Representative Todd Akin of Missouri's recent abortion comments and subsequent fauxpology (he "misspoke" and has "deep empathy" for rape victims, he assures us). But Digby featured a link to David Frum's column, quoted above, and I wanted to call attention to it for anyone who missed it at Hullabaloo or The Daily Beast because I think it bullseyes the central point about all this that a lot of my peers may have missed (or at least haven't focused on at this writing).

Which is, as Frum writes, that Representative Akin's statement wasn't "dumb" as most people might understand the word.

The word everybody should be using instead of "dumb" is "evil".

No doubt someone will object at this point: "Oh come on, Akin's views are based on junk science and a basic misunderstanding of reproductive biology." But that objection completely misses the point. The critic would be absolutely correct if we were talking about reproductive biology. We aren't. We're talking about what Todd Akin and his ilk mean by "rape".

You have to realize there is an unspeakable tautology lying right there in plain view like a corpse on the dinner table: I am quite sure Representative Akin and quite a lot of anti-abortion crusaders believe that if a woman gets pregnant from what she alleges was forcible, nonconsenual sex, she's lying about the force and/or the consent. And if a man forces himself on a woman and she doesn't get pregnant, well I guess they can take that as evidence it was rape.

Laura Helmuth points out that this isn't the first time Akin has been on the evil side of related issues. He opposed a spousal rape law before eventually voting for it (I imagine he realized being accused of being "pro-rape" would make for some mighty ugly political optics more than he actually changed his position and decided wives can say "no" to sex with their lords and husbands). (Having my own doubts about the efficacy, purpose and fairness of sex-offender registries, I won't harp on Akin's opposing a national registry for federalist reasons.) Akin also praised a right-wing so-called "militia" with strong ties to Tim Dreste, a promoter of domestic terrorism against abortion providers.

Abortion access for rape victims has long been a contentious subject: pro-choice supporters have frankly leaned upon the issue too strongly as a point of compromise with the anti-reproductive rights crowd, who tend to also gravitate towards a harder line on law-and-order and victims' rights issues. "Surely," the pro-choice advocates have suggested to conservatives, "even if you don't agree a girl or woman has a right to make autonomous reproductive decisions for herself, at least you wouldn't force her to carry to term the child of her rapist or a product of incest, or to carry to full term a pregnancy that would kill her (and the baby, too)?" This has been somewhat effective in causing anti-choice proponents to at least hem and haw and shuffle their feet and look nervous, but I have to think it's a bit of a spurious argument: if you really believe a female has a right to make reproductive decisions for herself (even decisions you might not be wholly comfortable with--after all, it's her rights, not yours), then it doesn't actually matter how she was impregnated; and what's more, if you really believe that life begins at conception and is always sacred, then it still doesn't actually matter how someone was impregnated. (A position, speaking-of-which, explicitly laid out by Rick Santorum.)

It's depressingly inevitable that someone would come up with the pseudoscientific claim that gives the Akins of the world an easy out: you don't need to agree to an abortion exception for rape victims if they can't get pregnant in the first place, problem solved. And I don't think it's accidental that embedded in the claim is a sentiment very, very close to the ugly old defense proffered by some rapists: "It wasn't rape, she enjoyed it." Akin's is a crowd for whom God rewards virtue and punishes vice, and that is the proper order of the phrasing because prosperity is proof of one's worthiness and misfortune only ever comes to those who deserve it; in short, if you said "no" to sex and then got pregnant, you had it coming, slut.

That this is indefensibly vile should be self-evident. But attributing such maleficence to "stupidity" is to give Akin a perverse and undeserved form of absolution. To be clear, I'm not saying he isn't stupid; I'm saying that if he is, it isn't really the problem, and it certainly isn't the problem with his rape comments. The real problem is an insidious and reprehensible logic drawn from an absolutist worldview in which suffering a sexual assault and an unwanted pregnancy is deemed a form of sick retribution for assumed and unspecified sins. Ignorance is curable; a defect of the soul like Akin's monstrosity isn't, no matter how many diagrams of a fallopian tube you show him.


Megan Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 9:35:00 AM EDT  

I posted this elsewhere, but I still like it.

The "exceptions for rape and incest" people give the game away: it's all about judging women for having sex. Either abortion should be legal or it shouldn't be; whether the woman chose to have sex is irrelevant. People who make these exceptions are saying that women who choose to have sex should face the consequences. There is no other reason for a legal exception like this.

If abortion's OK, it's OK no matter how she got pregnant. And if it's wrong, the rape doesn't change that.

I can respect the "no exceptions" extremists much more than people who are only willing to allow rape victims to choose.

Eric Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 10:40:00 AM EDT  

Sometimes brilliant satire can, paradoxically, be unfunny: The Onion absolutely nailed the worst things about Akin and his ilk, with "Pregnant Woman Relieved To Learn Her Rape Was Illegitimate". That. Exactly. Nails what is so vile about Akin's comments and the people who tacitly, or even explicitly, agree with him.

Seth Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 11:40:00 AM EDT  

Everything about Akin is clearly vile and gross. But I'm not sure the pro-abortion movement is wrong to bring up the difficult cases like rape and incest and danger to the life of the mother. I think it's too easy to say that there are people over here in the pro-abortion camp who believe that zygotes ain't nothin' but cells, and then there are people over there in the anti-abortion camp who think that every fertilized egg is a fully-formed human being. Having been in both camps at various times, I think it's perfectly possible to feel uncomfortable with abortion while not either granting citizenship to recently-united sex cells or wanting to colonize women's bodies. What the rape/incest/etc. argument does is peel away from the anti-abortion movement the people who fit the above description, which I'm guessing is actually a significant percentage of the people who call themselves pro-life. At any rate, it's enough to bring some of them to the table and do some legislating. Whereas I think if you frame it as, "You either have to prioritize the woman's right to choose all the time or we can't have a conversation," a lot of those people will just kind of fade away, not really wanting to argue with you about it, but also not agreeing with you.

I guess what I'm saying is that people's feelings about abortion are complex, because, unsurprisingly, abortion is morally complex. It's the only case, really, where one person's body is the source of life for another (potential) person. Pregnancy and, indeed, parenthood is a long process of separation, in which the child's body slowly comes into being as a part of its mother's body, and then slowly separates from that body. That's a weird and morally complex situation, and I'm not sure our monkey-brains -- which are used to thinking of people as discrete, whole units -- are very good at handling it.

People who aren't creeps like Akin recognize that women have the right to their own bodily integrity and autonomy. But there are plenty of people who, even while acknowledging that right, are uncomfortable with completely ignoring the potential person represented by the zygote or fetus. This isn't rigidly logical -- after all, if you endorse the use of birth control, you endorse the elimination of potential people -- but there is a kind of gut sense, for many people, that conception is crossing some kind of Rubicon. A very pro-life person once explained to me that they felt that the difference between birth control and abortion was that abortion was interrupting a kind of natural process that, if left alone, would usually result in a baby. And I think a lot of people who are in the big mushy middle on this issue feel the oddness of that fact. It's not a person yet; but if you left it alone, chances are good it would become one. People feel weird about interrupting that process, even if they recognize that the woman has a right to do what she wants with her own body and even if they don't believe that there's a magical soul that inhabits the fertilized egg at conception or whatever.

So I think most people are putting all this stuff in a balance, trying to figure out whether the law should come down on the side of women's autonomy or respect for those nascent lives. And when pro-choice people make the rape, etc. arguments, what they're doing, I think, is helping people say, "Well, there are a lot more arguments for women's autonomy than for nascent lives, even though nascent lives are worthy of consideration and respect." True, sometimes the argument leads to the carving out of silly (and, as Frum points out, administratively unworkable) legal exceptions. But I think it's also useful as a way of helping people cope with a weird, morally ambiguous situation and get to the right place on it.

Eric Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 12:32:00 PM EDT  

Those are fair points, Seth.

I think there are potentially other ways to balance the mother's choices against whatever we feel is appropriate for a nascent or potential human life. Roe v. Wade, for instance, was a problematic attempt to work out a compromise based on viability; problematic, because fetal viability is a moving goalpost (viability has already been pushed far earlier into a pregnancy in the forty years since Roe, and it's far from inconceivable--actually, I'd say it's likely--that medical technology may someday push viability back to seconds after fertilization, which may make aspects of the abortion debate altogether meaningless).

Although I dislike Frum's tone in the piece I quoted and have some issues with how he's framed things, he has a point about the cause of conception being immaterial. Even under existing legal frameworks, if a rape victim wanted an abortion in her third trimester (let's just play along with the implausible idea she's waited so long for some reason), it generally wouldn't be permissible. She certainly wouldn't be allowed to give birth and then kill the child because he or she was the product of rape or incest.

I think the rape/incest distinction is made by people in the pro-choice camp for exactly the reason you say in the first paragraph, Seth: it peels away people on the margins of the pro-life camp and brings them to the table. Which might be politically sound; unfortunately, it's also otherwise hard to defend on any kind of rational basis. (I'd note in passing that part of the problem with the Frum piece is an-all-too common issue in American political culture these days: he mistakes exigency for policy--i.e. he faults pro-choicers for logical inconsistency when it's likely that many of them don't actually agree with what they're advocating, but are instead merely advocating what they think is politically possible in the current climate; this is one of the ways in which exigency advocacy is problematic--it's "reasonable" in the sense that it recognizes politics is the art of the possible, but unreasonable in that it puts one in hypocritical or intellectual indefensible positions; that isn't to say pro-choicers should be as unyielding as their opposition, but that the strategy is problematic and may prove untenable).

Eric Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 12:42:00 PM EDT  

I wanted to reply to Seth, but I also wanted to offer two sort-of updates on the matter of whether Akin's comments actually hurt him with his constituency and is he a fringey outlier. (Short answer: "not exactly" on both counts.)

1) Here's Giant Midgets favorite crazy-neighbor-who-will-watch-your-cats-and-gives-great-cookouts-but-don't-mention-politics Mike Huckabee reminding us that sometimes good things come in tragic, and yet ultimately good, rapey packages;

2) And here's Akin's Missouri GOP colleague Sharon Barnes reminding us all that sometimes God's greatest little blessings come to us by way of a girl or woman getting fucked without her valid consent (and sometimes with the threat or use of violence--ladies, just remember that a knife being held to your throat by an angry crackhead trying to rip your panties off is just God's way of filling this world with the joys and blessings of bright new life).

I'm telling you: not dumb, evil.

Rachael Acks Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 1:24:00 PM EDT  

I think people are also missing the broader point here that not only is Akin's position evil, it's the SAME POSITION much of the rest of the party in congress has. "Legitimate rape" language is the same thing as the "forcible rape" language of last year, language with which Akin tried to defend himself. Language that Paul Ryan supported.

Rachael Acks Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 1:25:00 PM EDT  

For the record, what I said yesterday: http://geo-geek.blogspot.com/2012/08/no-no-you-did-not-misspeak.html

Rachel Maddow brought the point up on her show last night as well.

Eric Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 1:54:00 PM EDT  

I endorse Rachael's excellent post at her link--everyone, go, read!

And thank you for linking to it, Rachael.

Seth Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 3:26:00 PM EDT  

Yeah -- I think the Huck's comment is actually much worse than Akin's. Akin's comment is a creepy rationalization of anti-abortion views, offensive in the extreme, and wrong on the biology. But Huck's thing is all that plus it's intended to silence pro-abortion arguments with a sort of weepy appeal to sentiment. It's also incredibly dumb as an argument, because Huck's point is that nice people should have a chance to be born -- but that implies that there are some wicked people who shouldn't be born. Which means that, in at least some cases, abortion is a net good.

Something something time machine Hitler.

(Or John Connor, if you roll robotic.)

Seth Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 3:27:00 PM EDT  

(Huck's argument is also an argument against birth control -- up to and including abstinence as birth control -- which means that, by his logic, the only people really doing the right thing are the Quiverfulls....)

Eric Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 3:59:00 PM EDT  

...but that implies that there are some wicked people who shouldn't be born. Which means that, in at least some cases, abortion is a net good.

Seth, I don't want to make myself sick by looking for proof of their existence, but I have little doubt there are people out there who would claim not even Hitler should have been aborted, because Hitler's actions were merely part of God's great plan for Israel.

Seth Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 5:55:00 PM EDT  

If that's correct, God is not very good at planning.

Seth Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 5:56:00 PM EDT  

(I feel like that kind of thinking is sort of like saying, "The fire that destroyed my house is all just part of God's plan for me to get a new couch." Even when I was full-on theist that kind of thing made me pretty uncomfortable....)

Robbin Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 9:17:00 PM EDT  

"Evil" is appropriate. Granted this is taken way out of context of his Akin's social milieu, but where rape is used as an act of war, where is the science he claims then? That women who get pregnant must have wanted it? Wanted it while their children watch? It's totally insane. And evil.

Eric Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 10:31:00 AM EDT  

Robbin: exactly.

I've also wondered what Akin makes of statutory rape offenses in which "consent" is given by someone who is deemed legally incapable of giving it. Some adult creep knocks up an eleven or twelve year old, I guess it's not "legitimate rape", right?

Evil. Very.

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