Akin Is The Christianist Mainstream

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 21 2012 @ 7:19pm


Wonder why FRC is still backing him? Or that he sees no reason to quit? The answer is that his view of female reproduction is based on the work of one Dr. Jack C. Willke. Willke is not, as one might expect, some obscure quack, far, far away from the center of Republican and Christianist politics. He is, the LA Times notes, the founder and president of the International Right to Life Federation, president of the Life Issues Institute, and a former president of National Right to Life, the oldest and largest pro-life group in the country. He was president from 1980 to 1983 and then from 1984 to 1990. In 2007, Willke was described as "an important surrogate for Governor Romney's pro-life and pro-family agenda" in the words of the Romney campaign. "I am proud to have the support of a man who has meant so much to the pro-life movement in our country," Romney said at the time. Willke, of course, has defended Akin forcefully since the uproar. Here he is, pioneering this wingnut version of female sexuality back in 1999:

First, let's define the term "rape." When pro-lifers speak of rape pregnancies, we should commonly use the phrase "forcible rape" or "assault rape," for that specifies what we're talking about. Rape can also be statutory. Depending upon your state law, statutory rape can be consensual, but we're not addressing that here.

Yes, you read that right: "statutory rape can be consensual". There's more:

How many forcible rapes result in a pregnancy? The numbers claimed have ranged the entire spectrum of possibilities. Some feminists have claimed as high as 5 to 10 percent, which is absurd. One problem has been the lack of available studies and accurate statistics. Often women do not admit to having been raped. On the other hand, it has been known that women, pregnant from consensual intercourse, have later claimed rape. Is it possible to know the actual facts?

My italics. Lying behind all of this is some kind of notion that women claim they have been raped to get an abortion. It's this loophole they are trying to fill. It becomes much less obviously cruel or drastic if the odds of pregnancy by rape are close to non-existent. You can see how easily it could become a Christianist talking point, picked up by someone who lives and breathes the evangelical base like Akin. But his statistical method is as surreal as his conclusion.

Willke first posits 200,000 rapes a year and then winnows that number down to rape-pregnancies of around 225 in the entire US in a year. Among the statistics he uses to prove his point are the following:

One-fourth of all women in the United States of childbearing age have been sterilized, so the remaining three-fourths come out to 10,000 (or 15,000).

Only half of assailants penetrate her body and/or deposit sperm in her vagina, so let's cut the remaining figures in half. This gives us numbers of 5,000 (or 7,500).

Fifteen percent of men are sterile, that drops that figure to 4,250 (or 6,375).

I kid you not. Here's the "science":

To get and stay pregnant a woman's body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones. Hormone production is controlled by a part of the brain that is easily influenced by emotions. There's no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape. This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy.

It's important to understand that this man is a central figure in the history of the religious right. What he is spouting is the orthodoxy you don't hear outside of Christianist circles – but it's there. And it's why Akin seems baffled, and why Ryan had no compunction in using Willke's specific term "forcible rape" as part of a bill he sponsored.

Partisanship should help keep the base with Romney and not go rogue with Akin. Or it might not. The first thing I thought when I heard that Romney had picked Ryan was that Romney, a man who couldn't win a majority of evangelicals in a single contested primary, had picked a Catholic as his team-mate. If they both pick a fight with a Christianist, evangelical pro-life authority like Willke, they could dig an even deeper hole.

(Photo: Chris Maddaloni/Roll Call/Getty Images)