Todd Akin would do his party and his country a service by stepping aside. The rest of the campaign will be dominated by this side issue, possibly denying Republicans a key Senate seat. To use the words "legitimate" and "rape" in the same phrase betrays a serious lack of judgment. Only about 1 percent of women undergoing abortions report that they were raped, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. One percent is not zero.
That much having been said, I must offer a mild dissent to the widespread view expressed by both Republicans and Democrats that what Akin said was outrageously "stupid." The "legitimate rape" wording was atrocious, agreed. But much of the commentary has focused on Akin's mistaken belief that women's bodies have the capacity to "shut down" the reproductive process in cases of rape. (Akin has since acknowledged that he was wrong.) Interviewing Akin on "Good Morning America," George Stephanopolous spoke for many when he said, "A lot of people are wondering how an idea like that can even get in your head."
Really? Is it such an outlandish idea? I looked it up, and it appears that there is no evidence that pregnancies are less likely in cases of rape, but it didn't seem out of the realm of possibility to me. Many things about the human body are peculiar and amazing. And frankly, more people than are today admitting it must believe that a woman's mental state has something to do with her capacity to conceive. Consider that every woman (including me) who has ever experienced infertility is told, even by some doctors, that she should try to "relax."
Though dismissed as a myth for some time, the role of stress in infertility is being reconsidered now by specialists. Dr. Margareta D. Pisarska, co-director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles told WebMD that "it's becoming more and more important, in terms of what studies we do, to focus our efforts on the physiological effects of stress and how they may play a role in conception."
The body is capable of impressive feats. The breast milk of mothers who give birth to preemies is chemically different from the milk produced for full-term infants. It has a higher concentration of fat, protein, iron, chloride and sodium -- which is believed to aid the development of premature infants.
Kevin Williamson notes in the current National Review that high-status men have more male children than ordinary men. Is it "stupid" to believe that this phenomenon is real?
Testosterone levels vary widely among men and are known to change in response to events. The liberal blogger Andrew Sullivan wrote an absorbing piece more than a decade ago about the role of testosterone. It seems that when tennis players' testosterone levels were monitored before and after a match, researchers found that "the winner of any single game sees his T production rise; the loser sees it fall. The ultimate winner experiences a postgame testosterone surge, while the loser sees a collapse. This is true even for people watching sports matches. A 1998 study found that fans backing the winning side in a college basketball game and a World Cup soccer match saw their testosterone levels rise; fans rooting for the losing teams in both games saw their own T levels fall."
Akin's mistaken belief in the unlikelihood of rape-induced pregnancy is now being lassoed into service against other Republicans. Virginia Republican Senate candidate George Allen, who denounced Akin, is nonetheless being flayed by the Washington Post for having once voted to confirm a judge who had once, long before, expressed views similar to Akin's.
So Akin's views are scandalous and can be used to discredit (however implausibly) other Republicans. But the views of the leaders of the Democratic Party --favoring abortion for any (including sex selection) or no reason throughout the nine months of pregnancy -- are not controversial. The Democratic Party's support for partial-birth abortion is not worthy of skepticism. The views of the president of the United States -- opposing a law providing that a baby accidentally born alive after a botched abortion be protected from the abortionist's knife -- is not shocking. No Democrat has ever, so far as I know, been challenged by a member of the mainstream press to distance himself from the president's extreme abortion position.
Akin is guilty of having his facts wrong. Many of his critics are guilty of worse.