Dear everyone asking what it is about Republican candidates and their clumsy talk about rape: This is a feature, not a bug.
The latest entrant into the Republican rape insensitivity bake-off is Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who said tonight that “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” He, of course, joins fellow Senate candidate Todd Akin, with his now-canonical “legitimate rape” comment, and Rep. Joe Walsh, running for election in Illinois, who claimed there was no reason a woman would ever need an abortion to save her life or preserve her health. The trailblazer was Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle, who failed to unseat Harry Reid in Nevada two years ago, and famously said that if a hypothetical teenager was raped and impregnated by her father, it was an opportunity to turn “a lemon situation into lemonade.”
Here’s why this is happening: The newer crop of Republican candidates and elected officials are, more often than not, straight from the base. They’re less polished than their predecessors; they’re more ideologically pure. As a result, they’ve accidentally been letting the mask slip and showing what’s really at the core of the right-to-life movement.
For years, the movement has fought plausible charges that it is anti-woman by repackaging its abortion restrictions, in Orwellian fashion, as protections for women. They’ve done it so successfully that until recently, when so many alleged “gaffes” went viral, no one really noticed. What is the so-called Women’s Health Defense Act? A proposed ban on abortion before viability. What are “informed consent” laws purporting to give women all the information they need before having abortions? Forced ultrasounds, transvaginal, and some of them involving the forced viewing of the ultrasound, at the woman’s expense, under the stated supposition that she has no idea what’s growing inside her unless someone makes her look. (Never mind that 60 percent of women who have abortions have already given birth at least once.)
Where does rape come into this? If you doubt that the abortion obsession in this country is about sex more than it is about “babies,” just look to all this agonized public parsing about “legitimate rape” and “forcible rape.” Americans are, at least in theory, sensitive to survivors of rape, whose bodies have been cruelly used against their will, and they see a forced pregnancy as further suffering. The corollary, of course, is that pregnancy is the just punishment for consensual sex, or, if you think an embryo or fetus is the same as a person, that rape justifies capital punishment. But most people don’t think in those consistent absolutes, which is the reason that the antiabortion movement has sometimes conceded to rape exceptions, as Mitt Romney has — they’re willing to suffer them, occasionally, as a sort of gateway drug toward stigmatizing and marginalizing all abortion.
For now, antiabortion absolutists have some explaining to do, and they’re doing it very, very badly. That’s because they aren’t used to cloaking their views in the rhetoric of compassion, something George W. Bush was so much better at. They’re used to how the base talks about this stuff among themselves, when it’s open about seeing women as vessels whose decision-making is subsumed to God’s plan or to baby making. (Paul Ryan is ideologically aligned with this crowd, but usually has the political skills and earnest manner to keep him out of trouble. When he got asked in the debate about religion, he answered by talking about “science.”)
But every time a Republican politician says what he (usually he) really thinks about all this, we can ask ourselves the following: What are you if you think women have no idea what they’re doing when they have an abortion, that they need the law to bully them, if not to change their minds, then to make things as difficult as possible for them?
What are you if you think a woman’s right to her own body should be entirely subordinate to the possibility of an hours-old fertilized egg, and thus want to ban emergency contraception, as Akin does? What are you if you essentially render a pregnant woman an incubator, as Akin did when he described pregnancy as, “All you add is food and climate control, and some time, and the embryo becomes you or me”? What with all of the double-talk, I’ll be plain. You’re a misogynist.