Legitimate Rape: the next battlefield in the War on Women?

As societies across the world continue to become more progressive, Sean O’Grady looks at how some of those on the American right-wing are becoming even more extreme in combating social progress. The abortion debate has consistently proven to be one of the most divisive subjects in politics. Strong feelings dominate both sides of the argument and when it comes to those in the Republican Party, it’s usually a given that they will be vehemently pro-life. However sometimes their zeal for the unborn gets out of hand. Such is the case with Todd Akin, a Republican who is currently running for a seat in the US Senate.When questioned on his views on abortion in the case of rape or incest, Akin’s opinion was a little less than usual. In such a situation, Akin believes that in the case of ‘legitimate rape’, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”. To put it more simply, Todd Akin believes that should a woman be in danger of being raped, her entire reproductive system will shut down leaving her with nothing to worry about. The problem with this is that anyone who has even the most basic knowledge of human biology understands that this comment is ridiculous. Naturally, his comments have caused a media firestorm across America with members of his own party calling for Akin to drop out from the Senate race. It should be noted that Akin has since apologised for his comments, the standard political procedure for comments that are considerably less than intelligent. Akin clarified that he did not mean ‘legitimate rape’ but meant ‘forcible rape’, because in Akin’s world, there apparently exists a type of rape that is not forcible.His comments make one wonder how a person who holds such ignorant views on reproduction could be taken seriously as a politician, but Todd Akin is not the first on the American right to make such bizarre statements and undoubtedly will certainly not be the last to. One of the common views pro-choice voters hold is that it is not right that men should have such power over laws on women’s health, particularly those like Akin who know conceivably nothing about the subject. Many liberal commentators have argued that Akin’s comments further fuel the right-wing’s ‘war on women’ and the Republican Party’s attempts to take away women’s rights and in particular, reproductive rights. In fact, the party’s current platform on the issue is to ban abortion in all cases, including rape and incest. This is the position they have held in the previous two presidential elections also.Earlier this year, conservative American radio-host Rush Limbaugh was criticised for calling Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” after she expressed that she believed her college should give insurance coverage for contraceptives for the health benefits that would come along with it. His remarks cost Limbaugh several advertisers for his show and he was forced to apologise. However, an apology on the matter coming from a man who has regularly called feminists “feminazi’s” for several years now, likely did not carry much sincerity along with it.It should be noted that although men such as these are causing harm to women, women have been causing just as much harm to other women for just as long. One would be forgiven for thinking that Republican women would be more moderate on their views on such things as abortion, however it is the opposite. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2008 has previously said that even if her own daughter was raped she would still “choose life”. Phyllis Schaftly, a woman who fought against the Equal Rights Amendment, which guaranteed equal rights for women during the 1970s, has said that in the case of marital rape she believes that “by getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape”. Taking away women’s right to vote is a “personal fantasy” of Republican author and columnist Ann Coulter, who has stated that: “If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another Democrat president”. Yes, it seems even in the case of right wing women, they are not in favour of the reproductive rights of their own gender either.Recent polls in America have shown that a majority of the population are pro-choice and the gender gap between male and female wages has narrowed significantly. As the world becomes more progressive and female-friendly, it seems that the Republican Party is turning more conservative and more extreme. One wonders with all the criticism they receive, how do some of these people continue to be successful politically? Perhaps the best answer is the shock value they provide. The right-wing’s ability to cause controversy seems to be what keeps the careers of their spokespersons afloat; especially when you consider that for the majority of people, their views are completely out of touch with reality.