What Is The Impact Of Akin’s Rape Comments?

August 21, 2012

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, member of the United States House of Represe...

Time to “shut it down”?

The Missouri Senate seat held by Claire McCaskill was one being targeted by the Republicans this election.  Missouri historically is a swing state, McCaskill narrowly won in 2006, and she had been dogged by issues related to use of a private plane, including allegations that she failed to pay $280,000 in property taxes on the plane.

In short, McCaskill was vulnerable, and the Republicans were about to dump a ton of money into this race in an effort to tilt the balance of the Senate.  Representative Todd Akin emerged the winner of a three way primary and appeared to be on track to unseat the incumbent.

And then Sunday happened, and Akin uttered this quote in an interview.

It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare.  If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child. – Representative Todd Akin

If you’re not familiar with the medical science Akin is referring to, don’t feel bad.  The reason you haven’t heard about it is because it’s not true.  Akin later apologized, saying that he misspoke.  This wasn’t a case of someone misspeaking.  Mitt Romney accidentally introducing Paul Ryan as the next president of the United States was an example of someone misspeaking.  Akin’s comments seemed well rehearsed – he meant what he said.  He was simply wrong.

Republicans Distancing Themselves

Republican leaders have been quick to criticize Akin’s comments.  There’s a very good reason for this – this don’t want to be associated with Akin in any way.  Membership in a political party creates a guilt by association (on the flip side, party members can claim credit for the good deeds of other party members).  While many Republicans may have abortion views that are somewhat similar to Akin’s, most (all?) don’t agree with his comments about a woman’s body being able to prevent pregnancy after a rape and they find the use of the term “legitimate rape” to be offensive.

In or Out?

Until 5 PM today, Akin can withdraw from the race fairly easily.  After 5 PM, it would require a court order and he would be forced to pay for the re-printing of any ballots.  To this point, Akin has been insistent that he will stay in the race.  Republicans are trying to get him to withdraw so that they can replace him with an unsoiled candidate.  On CBS radio news this morning, they reported that a Republican operative was frustrated after conversions with Akin.  The operative was quoted as saying “you can’t reason with an idiot.”

His opponent, McCaskill, agrees with him, stating that the voters chose him and they have a right to have him on the ballot in November.  The fact that she’s be able to hit him over the head with this issue repeatedly definitely works to her advantage.

, U.S. Senator.

Senator Claire McCaskill

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has told Akin that if he stays in the race, they will not back him.  For those who aren’t familiar with this group, they raise a large amount of funds at a national level, and then spend it on races where the money can make a difference in determining the outcome.  (Yes, the Democrats have a similar group, and there are corresponding groups for the House.)  Without the support of the NRSC, Akin would be limited to whatever funds he can raise (or borrow) on his own – putting him at a decided disadvantage, since the National Democratic Senatorial Committee will almost certainly spend money to support McCaskill.

Even if Akin drops out of the race, McCaskill is likely in the position of advantage.  Whomever is picked as a replacement will not have received a plurality of support in the primary – and may not have even participated in the primary.  McCaskill could attack the Republicans as circumventing the traditional process by hand-selecting her opponent, rather than letting the voters decide.

In the end, the Republicans are between a rock and a hard place, although having Akin drop out would probably be best for them.

Effects on the Presidential Race

Missouri is one of just a handful of states that is truly up for grabs in the presidential election.  The majority of states are pretty solidly red or blue.  Recent polling in the state shows a virtual dead heat between Romney and Obama.  It’s possibly that Akin’s statement may cause some undecided voters in the state to have a negative opinion of the Republican party as a whole – causing them to either flip to Obama or simple staying away from the polls.  If Obama wins an electoral college squeaker due to a narrow win in Missouri, Todd Akin’s comments might be what puts him over the top – another reason why the Republicans are desperate for Akin to drop out.

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Allissa
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 15:33:17

    Akin is a total caveman. There is a cause to remove him spreading across the Web – http://www.youstand.com/cause/82112/remove-todd-akin-from-the-house-science-committee


  2. kosmo
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 16:22:19

    Allissa – I think you just offended a lot of cave men.

    It’s pretty crazy that he’s on the House Science and Technology committee.


  3. Martin Kelly
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 16:48:11

    The representative was wrong for sure. Where he got the shutdown mode of a woman’s reproductive system is just plane wacko. The second half of his statement is a reletively common line in anti-abortion circles. Why should an inoscent child be killed because it is the result of a crime (rape)?

    I am a Catholic, and by my church’s teaching I should be against abortion of all kinds. I am not. Although I would never recommend an abortion, I do not believe that there should be laws prohibiting abortion, especially in cases of rape, insest or threat to the mother’s life. Of course pro-choice people will pull out the false science that all pregnancies threaten the life of the mother.

    Whether Akin pulls out or not will only affect the Senate race. The presidential race will only be affected if a lot of people get really stirred up about this in Missouri. If you look carefully at the outrage, it is focused in the population centers of the east coast who will be voting for the president anyway. Missouri is a different beast and will be swayed more by the presidential candidates responses to Missouri issues, not a senatorial candidates idiotic statements. If the local races were that importrant, then Wisconsin would have been considered firmly in Romey’s camp because of the governer’s recall results. It is still considered a swing state with Ryan on the ticket.

    On the advantage note, it was a few years ago, but the Democrats in New Jersey removed a candidate from the ballot and replaced him because he was under criminal investigation (he did not drop out they just replaced him, after the deadline) and they still won the seat. On the otherhand, a candidate actually died in a Hawaii election and they were prevented from putting up a new name, so the election proceeded with the dead guy winning and then they had to have another election. On that note, Ms. McCaskill was not elected the first time, her husband was. He died before the election, but after the deadline, so the judicial ruling was that a vote for him was a vote for her. This was backed up by an appointment to the position by the governor, but she will still have to be carefull how she attacks a substitute candidate.


  4. kosmo
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 19:11:57

    @ Martin – Actually, McCaskill was elected the normal way. You’re remembering the circumstances of how Jean Carnahan became a Senator (but you had the state right). I don’t remember a judicial ruling that a vote for him was a vote for her (nor can I find info about this immediately via Wikipedia or Google).

    My own memory is that Mel Carnahan was declared the winner, at which point the seat was vacant. The governor of Missouri had the power to appoint a Senator until a special election was held. He was the same party as Carnahan, and appointed his widow (as he previously said he would). Had the governor been a Republican, John Ashcroft (the loser in the election) would likely have been appointed. Jean Carnahan subsequently lost the special election.


  5. Martin Kelly
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 21:34:40

    Good catch Kosmo. Keeping us all honest!


  6. kosmo
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 10:05:10

    @ Martin – Easy mistake to make. These are the only two women ever to represent Missouri in the Senate.

    I found the article that Akin is relying on for his comments. I’m not going to link to it, because it’s best if that misinformation stays hidden. It was written by a general practitioner. The numbers being used are somewhat questionable, but the worst aspect is the way the doctor uses statistics.

    All of the factors are used as if they were completely independent (I’m not sure is doing this intenationally, or just doesn’t know any better). That’s not the case. There would be strong correlations between a number of the factors. Strong positive correlations in some cases; strong negative correlations in others.

    Among the population of women he deems to be “at risk of being raped”, his calculations are assuming that each woman has an equal chance of being raped. In other words, a 21 year old college student and 62 year old housewife have the same chance.

    The Department of Justice begs to differ. The young adult group is at a far higher risk.
    http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/apvsvc.pdf (see page 3)

    The site that has the article has added an update address the controversy. They are backpedaling on their original number, but still state that the 5% number (which they question) is far lower than would be expected in a non-rape situation. They throw out more numbers for various scenarios. They state that for completely unprotected sex, there’s an 85% chance of getting pregnant.

    If that’s the correct stat, it’s certainly a cumulative stat. Over a span of time (12 months, perhaps), regular unprotected sex may result in pregnancy 85% of the time, but a single interaction would not have a probability anywhere near that high.

    Once again proving that medical science and statistics are two completely different fields. Just because someone has an MD doesn’t mean they are qualified to do statistical analysis.


  7. Someone or Another
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 19:39:43

    The 85% statistic is for a couple with no fertility issues, i.e. if a couple without fertility problems has sex regularly for a year, the woman will get pregnant about 85% of the time. Pregnancy is actually less likely to result from a single sexual act than the movies and health class would have you believe. But it can happen, whether the sexual encounter was consenting or not.

    Also there is no such thing as a no risk pregnancy. Pregnancy and delivery have an approximately 14 per 100,000 mortality. That’s a low risk for the average pregnancy, but it’s never going to be no risk. For example, an amniotic fluid embolus can occur in any pregnancy and result in the death of a previously healthy woman in minutes. There might be an argument to be made that this risk is low enough to legally demand, but it’s inaccurate to call the risk zero. (Of course, abortion also carries a risk, albeit an order of magnitude lower risk than completing pregnancy. This is why birth control, including abstinence if that is the preferred method, is of such importance.)


  8. kosmo
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 21:00:53

    “The 85% statistic is for a couple with no fertility issues, i.e. if a couple without fertility problems has sex regularly for a year, the woman will get pregnant about 85% of the time.”

    Right … which is why it’s completely nutty to compare a woman’s chance of getting pregnant from a rape (single event) to this 85% number (multiple events). It’s like the people working for this “think tank” are just looking for numbers and then proceed to use them, regardless of the actual context.

    As for a single incident, the stat I’ve seen is that this is about 30% on the day before ovulation, and it far lower than this for most of the month. I think it goes down to 10% the day of ovulation and then drops off a cliff after that.


  9. Someone or Another
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 22:20:08

    Ever consider why the rate of pregnancy is 30% right at ovulation? One reason is that most pregnancies fail prior to or just after implantation. I’ve seen numbers up to 85%, although I think the consensus is closer to 60-70%, of conceptions never lead to clinical pregnancies (i.e. something that lasts long enough to delay a period.)

    I’ve yet to see any Catholic or other pro-life organization pick this up as an issue. If all fertilized eggs are babies, isn’t this pandemic a more significant problem even than a few murders? Where’s the call to make miscarriage prevention a major goal of the NIH, with its own institute like the NHLBI or NCI? Where are the private organizations raising funds for the same? Because of this lack, I find it very hard to believe that the pro-life movement believes what it says about humanity beginning at conception. The behavior is just not consistent. A disease that kills up to 85% of babies should be a very big deal, even in a world with a major problem with infanticide.


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