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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, August 25, 2012


A week or so has passed since Missouri Representative Todd Akin recanted his comments on "legitimate rape."  Originally he claimed that certain unnamed "doctors" had demonstrated that in the cases of real rape (as opposed to those that were falsified, presumably by the woman) pregnancy was unlikely to occur, because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."  Following a firestorm of objections, including pregnancy specialists who claimed that the body had no such "rape-prevention" potential, Akin claimed that he had simply "used the wrong words in the wrong way."

For a short period following Akin's original comments, I wondered if he had, against all likelihood, been exposed to a scientific theory like the one expressed by Leonard Shlain in his book SEX, TIME, AND POWER:

...the resting PH level of a woman's vaginal lining creates an environment deadly to sperm. Responding to a lover she desires, a woman secretes a lubricating fluid that has as one of its primary properties the ability to neutralize her vaginal PH level's spermicidal effects.  The more foreplay, the more lubricated a woman becomes, the stronger the likelihood that a man's sperm will survive.  A rapist's sperm would enter a killing field."-- p.220.
However, in the ensuing days, I never heard any of the health professionals consulted bring up this theory, so it may be that Shlain's interpretation of the female biological mechanism is not one held by the majority of professionals.  (To be sure, though the "killing field" concept is presented as simple fact, Shlain does toss out some heuristic speculations throughout the book, some of which are more than a little wild.)

Further, Shlain would be an unlikely choice for the conservative Missouri congressman to consult. Far from being a soldier in the Republican "war on women," Shlain's book is if anything a valentine to the importance of the female human being (whom he calls "gyna sapiens," as against the androcentric "homo sapiens") in the biological and cultural development of the species.  In addition, Shlain (who passed away in 2009) was not the sort of marginal medical man favored by the far right, having served as the Chairman of Laparoscopic Surgery at a San Francisco hospital.

Later, thanks to a post on a comics message-board, I was exposed to a more likely source for the Republican congressman's politcized views on female reproductivity.  This essay from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch raises the possibility that Akin and his fellow travelers may be basing their "rape-prevention biology" on a rather questionable source of scientific data: that of Nazi concentration camp doctors.

Comparisons between Nazis and Republican anti-abortionists are of course just too easy to be worth making, and of course neither Akin nor any of his few defenders are going to affirm that the roots of their research lie in the Nazi death-camps.  And certainly there's nothing new about people devoted to a given cause asserting that their "ought" must and should outweight any "is" that might contradict it.   

What interests me about the situation is that even though Akin's anti-abortion position is rooted in religion, which should need no buttressing from scientific data, he adopted the language of science in order to promulgate a religiously-based theory.  It is as if he really wants to say, "A just God, such as I worship, would not allow innocent children to be conceived through acts of rage and violence; therefore it must be that the female body has been given the propensity to prevent such things by simply 'shutting down.'"  This is quite different from Shlain's theory, which asserts that the vagina does have a potential defense against unwanted sperm, but never claims that such a defense is absolute.

Like many liberals, I don't believe that Akin simply "mispoke."  Dozens of sites on the web have reported similar remarks by Akin and his fellow travelers (including vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan), so I need not rehearse those here. 

Now, it's possible that I give the congressman too much credit in assuming that he might have some real feeling for the "innocents" that he and his anti-abortion fellows say that they want to protect.  It could well be that he's doing so with no personal feeling whatever, as a cynical attempt to manipulate the more conservative members of the electorate.

Yet, whether Akin's protective emotions are sincere or not, I think that many of his target citizens are moved by a sympathy for the innocent, for the defenseless child.  On one messageboard I aroused considerable net-ire by saying that this sympathy in itself was not political in nature.  The ultraliberals that attacked me wanted to believe that to say this was to give tacit support to the anti-abortion movement.  Anything that did not demonize that movement was the equivalent of aid and comfort to the enemy.  I also cheesed off the ultraliberals by saying that while I didn't oppose others using the term "pro-choice," I thought it was a little dodgy in that "choice" is not the main issue.  The main issue is the right of the state to speak for its citizens in deciding questions of life and death, for the "innocent unborn" as well as those who are already full, functioning citizens.

Though individual Christians have been known to oppose the state's use of that power in respect to
military induction and to the death penalty-- both of which have the manifest power to take life, whether in service to the state or for the protection of it-- I know of no organized churches who oppose these particular instances of "rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's."  Only the lives of the unborn cause this upsurge in popular sentiment.

I am opposed categorically to the politicized sentiments of Akin's kind.  Their only solution to the multifarous problems relating to unwanted conception-- which include, but certainly are not limited to, conceptions through rape-- is an absolute refusal of the state's power to kill the unborn. 

And, unpleasant though it may seem, the unborn cannot be given special rights, despite any and all societal instincts to protect future generations.  It goes without saying that the state probably has made many mistakes in executing particular abortions, just as it has in executing particular prisoners.  But it does not follow that all of the executions were mistakes.  There are times when the unborn, innocent though they may be, simply have to suffer from living in an imperfect world.

I sympathize somewhat more with those individuals-- none of whom are affiliated with the anti-abortion crowd-- who recommend, not an absolute ban on abortion, but merely restrictions as to how *often* citizens might "choose" to have abortions.  But it's seems almost certain that our society, having become polarized between two extremes, will never explore this area of legal theory. 

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