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Mr. Akin and the Political Class Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 28 August 2012

In the most vexed and divisive time in our politics, Lincoln sought to make the case for the natural right of black people not to be enslaved.  Whether those black people, delivered from slavery, would be acceptable to white people as fellow citizens and voters, people with whom they would be willing to share power over their lives, was understood to be a separate and more difficult question.  

Lincoln was willing to put that further question aside as he planted the premises of natural right, the premises that would work in their logic eventually to bring citizenship to black people.  But Lincoln had to recognize the powerful feelings that ran against the acceptance of blacks just yet as fellow citizens:

Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment, is not the sole question, if indeed, it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well or ill founded, cannot be safely disregarded.

That sober sense of things has come into play again in our politics on the matter of abortion and rape. My brother in “columny” Austin Ruse wrote beautifully on this subject this past week, in the wake of the controversy that flared over Todd Akin, running for the Senate in Missouri. 

Akin has been faulted for being not “ready for prime time” because he had not prepared himself for that question of “abortion and rape” that the media are certain to throw at any pro-life candidate. The trick has been to deflect that question.  And yet most of the pro-life commentators faulting Akin have not exactly offered examples of the response that would explain matters – or even turn the tables on the questioners.

The pro-life response begins with the point that any accommodation on this matter of rape is a “prudential” accommodation.  It is something we may have to accept, though we can never endorse it in principle.  We cite Lincoln’s observation on a passion or feeling so pronounced that it cannot be disregarded. 

In this case, it is the passion for killing the innocent issue of the rape.  But that will not be enough for the interviewers; they will press us to concede the deep rightfulness of the abortion in these cases.

“Do you not understand,” we would ask, “that our position is predicated at every point on that undeniable innocence of that child in the womb? Now, do you have any reason that would cause us to revise that judgment? Do you regard the child as sharing, somehow, the guilt of the rape?” 

And of course we would add, “Do you yourself favor bringing back capital punishment for the rapist himself?  If not, why would you choose to visit a lethal act on the innocent issue of the rape?”


         Todd Akin: akwardly seeking a moral argument

The prudential argument for making the accommodation with abortion in rape has been supported by the fact that conceptions in rape have been estimated in the past to account for about ½ of one percent, or by some accounts, 2 percent of the abortions in this country.  

And so, as Howard Kainz pointed out in a comment to Austins column, the argument has been that we should not forgo passing a measure that would bar the vast majority of abortions – or bar the funding of those abortions – just because we couldn’t get support for barring abortion even in those hardest cases.  

We have also had grounds to hope that, once the pro-life premises are planted, we might create the climate of understanding in which the woman impregnated in rape could find an enveloping structure of support and understanding: a structure in which she would be treated as a hero for her act of generosity in sustaining the life of that unwelcomed child.

Mr. Akin’s comments about the rarity of conceptions in rape, awkward as they were, fitted into this scheme of reasoning. He drew upon the reports and musings of doctors that I had drawn upon myself years ago, to the effect that the trauma of rape might make it harder to conceive. 

Interesting.  But these speculations had nothing to do with the central moral arguments on the matter. They worked mainly to offer assurances to the pro-lifers that, in biting their lips and accepting abortions in rape, they were accepting what was likely to be only a minuscule portion of the abortions performed in this country.

One of our readers, Sue, rightly observed that Akin did not mean, by a “legitimate rape,” that certain rapes were legitimate.  He was obviously referring rather to actual rapes, not the sexual encounters that are regretted and referred to later as rapes. 

Mr. Akin was stumbling and artless, but Joe Biden has done far worse things in moral buffoonery, only to see his gaffes laughed off. The fact that Akin’s missteps triggered a panic in the higher echelons of the Republican Party, and even in the circles of conservative commentators, may simply be a sign of a political class that lacks confidence in itself as a political class.    

When Mr. Romney is asked about abortion, as he surely will be, he should point out that his opponent is the only national Democrat who opposed the bill to preserve the life of the child who survives an abortion.  And his administration has done nothing to enforce the Born-Alive Infants’ Protection Act. 

That is the scandal that deserves to trigger the high moral outrage.  And that is the real story on abortion in this campaign.

 
Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College and the Director of the Claremont Center for the Jurisprudence of Natural Law in Washington. D.C. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law.
 
 
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Comments (25)Add Comment
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written by Bangwell Putt, August 28, 2012
Some Obama supporters deny that problem requiring the Born Alive Infants Protection Act actually exists or did exist, holding that all necessary legal protections are in place now and were in place at the time the legislation was passed.

They argue that then Senator Obama was against the Illinois legislation because it was frivolous - a ploy created by abortion opponents to embarrass supporters of Roe vs. Wade.

A discussion at mirrorofjustice blog (re: Who is the extremist?) is instructive.
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written by Dennis, August 28, 2012
I think Mr Akin inartfully referred to a commonplace in Natural Family Planning instruction: that if all things go right, the chance of conception is 1 in 3. That if the mother is stressed, her body fights against the invasion. I think Akin was also referring to statutory rape, which is legally rape in states where I've lived. I think Akin was far nearer the truth than those who correct him.
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written by Sue, August 28, 2012
"The prudential argument for making the accommodation with abortion in rape has been supported ... 2 percent of the abortions in this country" The number of abortions don't matter - you can't be a little bit pro-abort. And there is a difference between Otto Schindler saving whoever he can, and a politician stating that he is always going to be a rape-incest-exceptions legislator.

The slope is as slippery from rape abortion to infanticide as it was from euthanizing the demented to gasing Jews in Germany. The technique was to get people used to "accepting" a "little bit of poison" dressed up as a merciful act. Then later, they would rationalize the more obviously horrific acts because they had already crossed the intellectual threshold of evil.

Comparing us to Nazi Germany is apt in many ways, but perhaps the most significant way is to recognize that the same people who were funding both pairs of statists then (Hitler and Stalin) are still funding both pairs of statists now (Romney and Obama). It was Hitler's vows to fight the menace of Stalin/Communists which caused many Germans to overlook Hitler's own problems.
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written by Grump, August 28, 2012
Interesting piece, professor. Akin's comments were at best clumsy and at the worst stupid.
As to Lincoln, I think you could find a much better example in genuine abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips. Lincoln was never an abolitionist per se and, in fact distanced himself and ridiculed them whenever possible.
His words and, more important, his actions, repudiate the myth of the Great Emancipator. "I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races," he said in his Aug. 21, 1858, debate with Stephen Douglas. "I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position." And, "Free them [slaves] and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this. We cannot, then, make them equals."
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written by Austin Ruse, August 28, 2012
Hadley, a much needed corrective. Please someone send this to Rich Lowry and the editors of National Review, also John McCormack at Weekly Standard....

Those gents were and are in an all-out and I would add unmanly panic.
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written by jane, August 28, 2012
There is absolutely no basis in fact for the myth that a woman who is raped is less likely to get pregnant due to the trauma! None! If ejaculation occurs and the woman is physically capable of getting pregnant the chances of it happening are the same as if she was having consensual sex.

You can speculate all you want on this professor, but it is factually wrong. Also-I am a middle of the roader on abortion but I have to say-nothing turns my stomach (and many of the other woman I know) more then having a man speculate on the workings of a woman's body as if he is some kind of expert, or she is just a specimen or incubator-when he has no idea what he us talking about.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., August 28, 2012
Sue, would you please be more specific about the "people who were funding both pairs of statists"? You might have something very truthful to share with us, and, if so, I would like to know what it is?
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written by Mark, August 28, 2012
Professor, great piece and such a common sense argument that I have used for a long time. Someone (in the pro life movement) needs to train the politicians who are favorable to the pro life cause.

If someone asks are you in favor of abortion in the case of rape say, "Are you in favor of the death penalty for the rapist? When you have answered that and implemented that action, I might consider answering that question."
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., August 28, 2012
Dear Jane: Cculd you be more specific about what you mean by middle-of-the-road on abortion? Does that mean it's only murder on odd numbered days of the month or only if the mother thinks it's murder? Also, should a man's lack of experience of being a woman bar him from pursuing a career in the OBGYN field?
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written by Austin Ruse, August 28, 2012
Jane, google "stress induced anovluation" and you will see that stress can inhibit ovulation. It is likely that none of the female athletes at the Olympics were ovulating because of the trauma they do to their bodies. Rape is perhaps the most traumatic event both physically and emotionally that a woman can endure. It is certainly possible that it could cause anovulation.
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written by Kerv, August 28, 2012
An exception to a pro-life law allowing an abortion for rape may ultimately harm women more than help them. Can there be any doubt that if rape is necessary for an abortion that (false) claims of rape will skyrocket? Feminist say that women don't lie about rape and that may be so currently. But, feminists also claim that in a world of illegal abortion, women will submit themselves to back-alley butchers. It is hard to imagine that a women won't lie about rape but she will procure a back-alley abortion.

Police will be flooded with reports of rape. Every rape accusation (whether "legitimate" or not) will be treated with extreme skepticism by an overworked police force. And this will help women how?

In regards to the "rape exception" question by the media, I have always liked this response: "Does your question imply that you agree that in regular circumstances abortion should be illegal? No? Then why are we wasting time on the side issue of what exception will be allowed to a law you don't support anyway? If we don't have agreement on the main issue, it is pointless to debate the side issue.
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written by Walter, August 28, 2012
Each episode of public non-scientific wishful thinking - whether Rep. Akin's error or Mr. Ruse's casual speculation that rape-induced anovaultion is "certainly possible" - is an unnecessary distraction to the over-arching moral argument.

Perhaps NBC should hire Mr. Ruse as a commentator for the next Olympic games.
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written by Sue, August 28, 2012
Thomas,

It's hard for me to put a single name to the group of libido-crats who have been steering us into the Brave New World - which leader are you interested in focusing on? There are many ties of each of these leaders back to the Rothschild/Rockefeller syndicate, whose monstrous hand funded Lenin, Hitler, Stalin. Obama is a Soros (Rockefeller-funded CFR) Democrat and Romney is a Rockefeller Republican, campaigning with Kissinger and sporting many Rockefeller worldviews, with many of the same TBTF Wall Street outfits pouring money into each campaign so matter what, we'll have a Rockefeller President. Rockefeller, you may remember is the one who funded Kinsey, the sexual revolution, the pill, abortion...well they also funded a lot of shadow behavioral research/ psyops in the twentieth century. Yes, there may be many good things Rockefeller Institute did, but they have had a singular chokehold on our Republic by the destructive programs they and other foundations fund. On this day celebrating Saint Augustine, it might be worthwhile (and illuminating) to start the book penned by E. Michael Jones (who has been awarded the backhanded honor of vilification by the SPLC), entitled "Libido Dominandi" (passion for domination). Very edifying for understanding how the power/control works (not just bankrolling but also blackmailing), traces the sexual revolution back to before the French Revolutions, with many names. But I have no doubt the problems trace even further back into the Enlightenment.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., August 28, 2012
Sue,
Thank you very mcuh. You have really done your homework. Few people have the courage to connect the dots the way you have. I agree that the Enlightenment erros provided a very critical stage for the devlopment of this diabolic process. Certainly Rousseau was an erotomaniac whose ideas contributed both to the French Revolution and fannned the fires of atheism, collectivism, and sexual nihilism which findally several political structures in the 19th Century. It is clear to me that those delusions are as demoionc in origin as the original lie of "Surely you will not die." Thanks again!
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written by Austin Ruse, August 28, 2012
Walter and others, a simple google search for the effects of stress on anovulation produces lots of scientific material. Here is just one:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1519933/

I am not saying that what Akin said was wise, or politically smart, but at least part of what he said was not as crazy as many want us to believe. One can reasonably extrapolate from the science that a woman experiencing such trauma may experience anovulation.

I really am not trying to be casual in any way. I am suggesting that folks might consider stop reacting so emotionally.
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written by jane, August 29, 2012
Mr Ruse mentions that stress can delay or even prevent ovulation. Yes that is true and stress OVER TIME can certainly affect a woman's cycle. However, rape is a brief and sudden event. A woman who is ovulating before the rape will not suddenly stop due to the rape, and if she is not ovulating then it probably is not her time of the month anyway.In other words the sudden nature of the event makes it highly unlikely the event itself will change her cycle.

And Mr. Coleman, of course men should pursue gynecology if that is where their hear takes them. I said that I am sickened by men who discuss pregnancy via rape in such a way that the woman all but disappears, and she becomes a mere "container". I also added that it is made worse when they are inaccurate with their biology. Most male gynecologists I know treat the woman as more than a container and intimately understands how the female body works.

In fact I believe the college of obstetricians and gynecologists released a statement saying the Mr. Aiken's remarks were completely without merit.

And yes, I am a "middle of the roader" on abortion. I just see this issue as extremely complicated and not quite like any other issue we as a society have had to face. I mean here you actually have one human growing in the body of another and intimately affecting the body of the woman for good and sometimes ill forever. So if I am inconsistent and irrational and a bit confused in my thinking, so be it, I plead guilty as charged.
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written by Austin Ruse, August 29, 2012
Jane,

Sperm can stay alive for up to five days. If a woman is raped on a Monday , the sperm can stay alive until Friday. If the woman is to ovulate on Friday, the trauma of rape can, repeat can, inhibit ovulation. I have read testimony of women who ceased ovulation after cycling accidents. This is hardly a crazy notion.
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written by Walter, August 29, 2012
Mr. Ruse, reasonable (and amateur) extrapolation is exactly the problem. The word "rape" is not mentioned once in the article you referenced. Without statistical evidence to back it up, your assertion remains just that.

The media (and the Republican party) were right to take Rep. Akin to task for his ill-founded comments. For if you argue with 8th grade science/logic, then people will assume your moral positions have the authority of an 8th grader.
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written by jane, August 29, 2012
Yes you are correct THEORETICALLY speaking: In some very rare instances when the timing is completely right with the woman's cycle, the rape may affect her releasing an egg just prior to ovulation. However, to speculate that the woman's body shuts down or releases some kind of substance as Mr Aiken did is wrong. In general, the odds of getting pregnant via rape is no less (statistically speaking) than consensual intercourse. The theoretical possibility of the scenario you describe does not alter that probability in any SIGNIFICANT WAY.
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written by Sue, August 29, 2012
Google "impact of stress on pregnancy conception" and you'll get 26 million articles, the first page of which has a very high ratio of Akin-affirming articles. Here's one example: "Healthy women trying for a baby may have reduced chances of becoming pregnant in any month if they are stressed, the results of a study by researchers at Oxford University and the US National Institutes of Health suggest."

A more lengthy quote from another article:
"The link between stress and conception is biologically plausible, since both processes begin, and interact with one another, in the brain. One example: The hypothalamus, located in the base of the brain, secretes gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which signals the pituitary gland to release luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), triggering ovulation. Under stress, however, the hypothalamus pours out a protein called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which can reduce or block the GnRH signal to the pituitary, which reduces LH and FSH. “This can lead to not ovulating and irregular or absent menstrual periods,” says Sarah Berga, M.D., professor and chairman of the department of gynecology and obstetrics at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Women with a medical condition known as stress-induced anovulation, for example, have a dysfunction in their GnRH signaling system.

Healthy women trying for a baby may have reduced chances of becoming pregnant in any month if they are stressed, the results of a study by researchers at Oxford University and the US National Institutes of Health suggest."

Given these many articles, one can see if Akin's crazy, he has lots of company.

And finally, as a women, I myself am getting tired of feminists trying to speak for me as a woman and(even worse than regarding me as a container) trying to deny the very heart of my role as a woman, that is, to *mother*. From Simone de Beauvoir to Betty Friedan to Cecile Richards, these women have given up their right to speak for women by neutering the importance of mothering. Just because someone is male, doesn't mean they can't speak truthier than some women about what it means to be a woman.
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written by Gloria, August 29, 2012
As a scientific researcher (genetics, on stress hormones and their effect on anxiety), my experience is that it's true that _chronic_ stress can definitely impact fertility and anovulation. It also impacts hormonal signaling via the HLA axis and CRH pathway. However, the hormonal signaling that occurs via chronic stress and acute stress are very different. Chronic stress is not defined as "a week", it's defined by months, for human beings. We are rather resilient individuals, you see. Also, the anovulatory effect is not an "all-or-none" effect. In a population of women, there will be a distribution of effects for women under chronic stress upon their fertility. Some will have chronic anovulatory effects (ie: no ovulation at all for months on end), some will have periodic anovulatory effects (sometimes they will fail to ovulate), and many will not have any effect upon their ovulation but will instead have other effects upon their health such as weight gain or increased risk for depression. The exact proportions of this distribution in women are not known at this time, but since the fertility rates have not dropped drastically beyond what you would anticipate from the effects of contraception and abortion, the effects of chronic stress upon ovulation is not anticipated to be that high among most women. It is anticipated to be a higher risk among older women or women who already have decreased fertility due to some other health problem that impairs fertility, such as endometriosis or decreased progesterone levels. Akin's comments implied some sort of active effort by the woman's body to prevent a pregnancy that she would be unreceptive to, which is simply not possible. As a staunchly pro-life (with no exceptions) woman and scientist, I was horrified by the damage that he did to the pro-life cause. I'm even more horrified by the amount of defense that he's received from people who don't seem to realize that the comments that he made amount to not only a misstatement, but a political tin-ear. One that has harmed what I consider to be the most important cause of our day. The phrase comes to mind "with friends like this, who needs enemies?"
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written by Croat, August 29, 2012
Elisabeth Fritzl. She is my argument. She has been held captive by her own father. She gave birth to 6 children as a result of rape AND incest. So if they ask me why I think abortion should be illegal in these cases my answer is for the same reason it is illegal for her to kill her children after she escaped.
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written by Austin Ruse, August 29, 2012
I will just ignore Walter's name calling.

Jane, yes, Akin was absolutely wrong in how he expressed the scientific reality of anovlution. You are so right about that. Many pro-lifers have relied for years on the theories of Dr. Jack Willke, who is a saint, but perhaps overblown in the way he talks about this issue.

Thanks, Sue for showing more of the scientific proof....
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written by Austin Ruse, August 29, 2012
One of the things that strikes me in this conversation is that some are ready to accept that stress may effect or inhibit ovulation but that sexual assault can't. On the one hand, trouble at work, or difficulty paying bills, or trouble at home, can inhibit ovulation but physical assault cannot.
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written by Sue, August 29, 2012
On acute vs chronic stress, the literature seems not completely agreed, which should allow us to cut the layperson a little slack. However, there are these quotes:

"With either acute or chronic stress, hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine are released to help your body adapt. Yet these same chemicals can disrupt the normal balance needed for conception."

"Maternal exposure to an exogenous stressor early but not late in the pregnancy affects gestational age and the probability of preterm birth."

"Whether the case may be chronic or acute stress, what is apparent is that stress can have a key role in fertility and must be dealt with as soon as possible, and in the most appropriate manner.These would in turn lead to disruptions in thereproductive system that can easily be detected such as changes in the menstrual cycle in females, drop in the sperm count and the sperm's mobility in males, etc."

"In human pregnancy, the process of intrauterine embryo location (usually at the uterine fundus) shares similar essence in mouse as conducted by well concerted uterine contraction. Abnormal embryo implantation at unfavorable intrauterine sites is prone to mid-term miscarriage or other pregnancy complications such as placenta praevia. It is an open but intriguing possibility that maternal stress at time of embryo transfer and/or implantation may cause similar sympathetic activation of uterine adrenergic receptors in human, resulting in suboptimal embryo location and pregnancy complications. "

Also, rape might be supposed to generate both acute and longterm stress, the latter of which might be supposed to also affect embryo/fetal loss at a more distant time from conception. This type of loss would be fully covered by Akin's (admittedly clumsy) words, which were "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. " He was not necessarily referring just to conception, nor to the acute, or short term. And he obviously wasn't claiming absolute 100 percent blockage of pregnancy, merely a tendency.

Finally, Akins words were awkward, but their lack of literal truth may be no greater than the fanciful constructions of the scientists who like to talk about "nature's way of doing things" or the materialist evolutionists who personify evolution as the agent of every biological process. Akin's errors, if any, were certainly less premeditated than Dr. Obama's promotion of the general health by aborting or euthanizing away the weak, or the East Anglian global warmist shyster science subscribed to by Romney. Those would be the loons against whom our dudgeon should be directed.

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