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Monday, August 20, 2012

The Theological Roots of Akin's "Legitimate Rape" Comment

Originally posted 8/20/12 at Religion Dispatches

Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), his party's candidate in the Missouri Senate race to unseat Democrat Claire McCaskill, has quickly attempted to retract his comment that in cases of "legitimate rape," women have biological defenses against pregnancy. "I misspoke," he claimed in a carefully crafted statement. After all, cleaning up the mess after the candidate not misspoke, but spoke his mind on television, is what campaigns do to pretend that the candidate is not a loon.

The strategy is not unlike the one used after the controversy Akin ignited last year when he attacked NBC for omitting "under God" from the pledge of allegiance in a broadcast. Accusing the network of being liberal, Akin told Tony Perkins on Family Research Council's radio program, "at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God. And so they've had a long history of not being at all favorable toward many of things that have been such a blessing to our country." Akin later tried to claim, "My statement during my radio interview was directed at the political movement, Liberalism not at any specific individual. If my statement gave a different impression, I offer my apologies."

Akin is proud of how his religion, and in particular, the Presbyterian Church in America, the deeply conservative Calvinist denomination founded in 1973, influences his political views. Akin has a Masters in Divinity from the denomination's flagship Covenant Theological Seminary. His campaign website notes, "Although most of his classmates went on to become pastors or missionaries, Todd took a different path. For several years he studied the founding of America and the principles which made this country great. His love of country and conviction that leaders must stand on principle led him to run for State Representative in 1988." On abortion, the PCA is absolutist: opposing abortion in all cases, with no exceptions.

Akin's comments reveal a religious culture fundamentally opposed to women's equality. On the rape exception question in particular, he's not forging new ground, but rather echoing tropes long in circulation. As Garance Franke-Ruta details at the Atlantic, deploying the bogus claim that a woman cannot get pregnant as a result of rape has long been a tactic of anti-choice activists to remove rape exceptions to laws outlawing abortion. And as Mother Jones' Nick Baumann reports, last year Akin "and most of the House GOP co-sponsored a bill that would have narrowed the already-narrow exceptions to the laws banning federal funding for abortion—from all cases of rape to cases of 'forcible rape.'"

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