The Friends of Todd Akin

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 20 2012 12:37 PM

The Friends of Todd Akin

A brief summary of the national politics surrounding l'affaire Todd Akin.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

1) Republicans want to win the 2012 elections.

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2) They want these elections to be about economics, not about any social issues.

3) They certainly don't want to lose female voters who should vote for them because of the lousy economy, but get distracted by social issues. (See: The Romney campaign, in April, claiming that the "real war on women" was... the bad economy.)

That's the backdrop for the very fun, but distracting rush of Republicans calling on Todd Akin, the winner of Missouri's 2012 U.S. Senate primary, to give up that crown. Sen. Scott Brown, who shares some of Mitt Romney's advisers, wants Akin to quit. So does Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Both of these men come from states where female candidates have reasonable chances of winning U.S. Senate seats this year.

But what are we hearing from people who don't have narrow political interestes in rejecting and denouncing Akin? Bryan Fischer is the director of issue analysis at the American Family Association. He hosts the group's popular radio show; he and Paul Ryan will probably speak from the same podium at next month's Values Voter Conference. His reaction to Akingate has been to tweet that media are "grossly distorting what he had to say," and that "physical trauma of forcible rape can interfere w/ hormonal production, conception." To make that point he links to a 1999 essay by John C. Willke, M.D., former president of the National Right to Life committee. Willke:

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. So what further percentage reduction in pregnancy will this cause? No one knows, but this factor certainly cuts this last figure by at least 50 percent and probably more.

Pro tip: If your medical argument includes the phrase "no one knows, but..." then you might want to head back to the crime lab. My point, though, is that some social conservatives agree with the point Akin was making, and the "science" he was referring to. Understand that and you understand some of the skepticism that undergirded the "Respect for Life" Act of 2011, the major second bill that the Republican House passed, which was co-sponsored by Akin and less-denounced Republicans like Paul Ryan. I don't know what affect the Brown/Johnson etc comments will have on Akin, but will they matter more than the attaboys from social conservatives?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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