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British actress Olivia Williams with sabre fish.
Todd Akin, the Congressman with the curiously dead eyes, did voters a favor with his public airing of his belief that “legitimate” rape will not cause pregnancy.
Besides being disavowed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, presidential candidate Mitt Romney ]denounced Akin’s words as “outrageous,” and GOP officials called for Akin to step down. What’s lost in this fray, and what is most important for women voters, is that as bizarre as Akin’s statement was, it is in complete accordance with the official GOP platform: a ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape–or incest. This is the same platform it brought to the 2008 convention and the 2004 one.
It’s not often that the veil slips and we are allowed to see the men behind the curtain, furiously manipulating their buttons and levers to fuel the War Against Women. Yes, the fact that Akin, a senior member of the House Science Committee, can state, without attribution or a single peer-reviewed study, that the female reproductive system is a sort of sentient being that can ascertain if sperm are deposited with the consent of the woman or not—and act accordingly, defies logic. But this kind of thinking fits in with the GOP’s regressive agenda, for example the Virginia’s proposed cruel and rape-ish Virginia ultrasound law, where a woman who requests an abortion would have had to endure being penetrated by a vaginal wand for no medical reason. Pro and anti-choice women should be protesting this.
Perhaps what has made anti-abortion women a bit too comfortable and complacent in their position, not really thinking through exactly what it is these politicians are pushing for, is that for decades the choice of a legal, safe abortion has been available. The best example of this is über-conservative Sarah Palin, who routinely spoke on the campaign trail about the “agonizing choice” to continue her pregnancy with a Down syndrome baby.
That’s a pro-choice stance.
The blind spot of anti-choice women is believing they will never be in a situation where they will seek an abortion until they are in a situation where they want an abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, about half of American women will have an unintended pregnancy, and nearly one-third will have an abortion by age 45. For sure, there are some women who vote Republican, if not avowed anti-choicers, in those figures. I know this firsthand because I have spent the last eight years shadowing and interviewing OB-gyns as research for my novel-in-progress, “The Einstein Code.” What I found: “pro-life” women have abortions for the same reasons pro-choice women do: they can’t afford a new baby, they didn’t want the baby, they were too young, they were unmarried, there was a genetic defect or they didn’t want children.
It’s part of human nature to change your mind, to change your views, or even be a hypocrite. However, if the GOP ascends to power and implements its agenda, this choice regarding control of what happens in a woman’s body during pregnancy could be taken away.
The stakes can be hard to visualize, given the Romney campaign’s skillful soft-sell —look at his kids and grandkids! Paul Ryan likes the outdoors and has a six-pack! Butif the material results of the GOP platform should pass, it will mean they’ve won the war on women: no equal pay, cuts in social services that land hardest on women with children, no insurance coverage for contraception, bans on abortion and possibly birth control). Given that parts of this scenario have already come to pass, let’s imagine it even further: say when you registered with a political party, you receive party-specific healthcare with it. For GOP women, this would mean no access to abortion or support for contraception. This is what the Republican party is pushing for, but this would never happen, because people would have to face up to what they really believe.
The GOP brilliantly softens its draconian ideas via clever PR. As such, the War on Women becomes a “culture war,” oppression of women’s lives is “pro-life.” Paul Ryan physically embodies this skill. Young, handsome and charismatic, a “nice guy,” he voted for the Orwellian “Protect Life” bill that will in essence allow hospitals to have the option to allow women to die by withholding emergency abortions.
Not so long ago, there was another young and attractive anti-choice VP candidate chosen to glam up the GOP ticket and bring in the ladies: Dan Quayle. When asked what he, as a stalwart abortion foe, would do should his daughters become pregnant as a result of rape answered: “My position is that I understand from a medical situation, immediately after a rape is reported, that a woman normally, in fact, can go to the hospital and have a D and C.”
His solution, the D and C, of course, is an abortion.
Akin is far from being alone in his ignorance about female biology; it’s obvious he has not bothered to learn about this science that’s been commended to him even in the most cursory way, much the same way Romney told women to vote for him because he’ll learn everything he needs to about economic issues important to women “from Ann.”
But again, in a candid moment, we have caught a glimpse of what the Romney-Akin-Ryan GOP is up to. A combination of obfuscation, prettifying, magical thinking, and—this is pivotal—an assumption that women are so dumb and incurious that we won’t note what they are saying and doing. In the cacophony of the campaign season, we should be glad the spotlight is on this issue of basic female personhood, and voters of any political persuasion who are women or know women should be grateful for this opportunity to take heed.
Marie Myung-Ok Lee’s essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Washington Post. She's a regular contributor to Slate. The author of the novel "Somebody’s Daughter," she teaches creative writing at Brown and Columbia. Find her on Twitter @MarieMyungOkLee and on Facebook. More Marie Myung-Ok Lee.
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