The candidate exposed his party's misogyny, and the swift backlash is reason for defenders of women to celebrate
I shared a panel with actor Gabrielle Union on MSNBC’s “Now With Alex” today. It was a full hour devoted to women on the first business day since Rep. Todd Akin made his repugnant comments about women’s bodies preventing them from conceiving in cases of “legitimate rape.” I had been a little glib and hugely political about it, when Union revealed that she’s a rape survivor herself, and shared her sorrow and anger at Akin’s idiocy. It became personal. The outrage that is Todd Akin became even more abhorrent.
So I’m celebrating reports that Akin has been asked to step down by GOP leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He is leading McCaskill in polls; this is big news. Defenders of women’s rights can celebrate. But not too much; whatever becomes of Akin — and, so far, he’s maintained that he’s planning to stick it out — he was presenting what has become GOP dogma: that women are using the excuse of rape to get around laws prohibiting abortion except in cases of rape or incest. Mitt Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, joined Akin in co-sponsoring HR3, a bill designed to redefine rape, to limit access to public abortion funding only to cases of “forcible rape” (exactly who would be making the distinction between “forcible rape” and, I don’t know, “illegitimate rape,” was never defined).
Regardless of his future, Akin himself has made clear that he is in his party’s mainstream. He didn’t mean to use the term “legitimate rape,” he told Mike Huckabee during a radio interview. “I was talking about forcible rape. I used the wrong word.”
Mitt Romney denounced Akin’s rape comments in the strongest language he’s used yet in this season of misogyny. But this issue won’t go away. Romney should be asked repeatedly if he supports his running mate’s commitment to HR3.
The Akin wildfire reminded me of the backlash against Susan G. Komen’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood earlier this year, which of course turned out disastrously for Komen. Twitter exploded with anger and humor. We started the hashtag #voodoovaginomics to describe Akin’s crazy notion that women mysteriously don’t conceive in cases of forcible rape. We are getting smarter about marshaling the power of social media to turn what once might have been passing stories into wildfires that have to be addressed.
Of course Akin’s replacement, if he resigns, is likely to be just as backward as Akin is when it comes to women’s rights – but maybe smarter about the way he talks about it. Still, the reaction to Akin’s outrageous comments is a victory for the defenders of women’s rights.
Coincidentally, Gabrielle Union was on MSNBC talking about Planned Parenthood’s expanded program of breast healthcare. The organization was able to grow the program thanks to the wave of donations it got after Komen withdrew its funding. Planned Parenthood won that round; Komen, tragically for the breast cancer survivors it helped, lost. Founder Nancy Brinker resigned last week, and Komen’s future remains unsettled.
Of course, the far right will keep trying to get its laws into our lady parts. The battle is far from over. But it’s clear Akin crossed a line, and once again reminded women how far right Republicans have gone. Now it’s up to Democrats to make clear how many Republicans – including Paul Ryan – are over there on the other side of that line with him.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America." More Joan Walsh.
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