Republicans liked Todd Akin before they disliked him

HUMAN REPRODUCTION is nothing if not a fertile topic, and our fecund media have underscored the point in the current case of US Senate hopeful, Todd Akin. At issue is his recent musing on the improbable concurrence of rape and conception, but there are other curious branches and sub-branches to the Akin story which are instructive. As the elections and leadership conventions approach, let’s peer down the avenues opened up by this case of unfortunate phrasing.

The lineage of Akin’s misconception, that rape rarely leads to pregnancy, goes back to a Roe v. Wade-era article by a Dr. Fred Mecklenburg, in a book compiled by Thomas W. Hilgers. Today Mr. Hilgers (Director of the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction) promotes innovations he calls the “Creighton Model FertilityCare System,” or CrMS , and “NaPro Technology” — the former a Roman Catholic church approved method of birth control and the latter a fertility technique. Both concern the “natural method” of reproductive planning: adapting one’s sexual activity to the fertile period of a woman’s menstrual cycle.

If you’ve been following the Akin sideshow, you’ve had exposure to a deep dose of pseudo-gynecology. Akin is the inheritor of some creative ideas about the female body, but in this he has the solace of ample company. On the topic of membership, I’ll notice also that when the GOP meets next week, in Tampa, they will have before them (as has been the case for years) an unequivocal and loophole-free anti-abortion platform, very much resembling the position of Rep. Akin as well as the various Comstock laws. The anti-contraception and anti-abortion Comstock Act went so far as to outlaw the spread of forbidden information about what is now termed family planning.

The principles of this nineteenth-century gag-rule have been revived, argued in the courts (see for example Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey), and in some details re-legislated. In the service of re-consigning certain dangerous knowledge to its ancient home among the shadows, many of today’s GOP are revisiting the fourteenth amendment’s due process clause. Mitt Romney’s prospective vice-president Paul Ryan was, with Todd Akin, one of sixty-four co-sponsors of the Sanctity of Human Life Act. As this bill shows, Akin’s views are not on the lunatic fringe of the Republican establishment. They are quite respectable, and respected, within the GOP. But it’s a delicate moment in the election cycle and an inauspicious time to take the bold and candid positions of which congressional politicians otherwise boast. The false notes of those now excusing themselves from the company of a longtime and likeminded colleague ring as Congress’s approval rating, for August 2012, falls to 10% (according to a Gallup poll).

The term, of course, for the disingenuous Republican leadership’s rebuke of Todd Akin is “politics.” With twenty-one Democratic Senate seats up for the having, and with the minority Republicans only four seats behind, the opinions of swing voters (among whom women are a principal concern) now matter. It follows that the GOP these days will take a keen interest in their distaff constituents, and not only — as may appear to be the case — in their reproductive cycles. A dishonest operation, but means will doubtless be justified by the ends. The former Pennsylvania Republican and novelist Stephen Freind, whose back-door anti-abortion legislation brought forth the challenge of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, was at least honest about his by-any-means approach: “until Roe v. Wade is reversed,” he said, “those in the pro-life movement must be as aggressive and creative as possible in drafting legislation which regulates and restricts abortion as much as possible.” Freind used the pretense of tort reform to undermine abortion access. The fervour with which he approached battle may be inferred from the account of the fictional Pennsylvania anti-abortion legislator Kevin Murray, in his novel God’s Children.

Surveying not only the Akin case but this wider and related swath of dishonesty does make one wonder at what depth the opportunist’s shovel will chip the bedrock of calculating cynicism. If he were successful in his Senate bid, Todd Akin would occupy the Missouri 2nd congressional district Senate seat once held by Jean Carnahan. Her husband, Mel, died nearly one month before the election while running against the incumbent, John Ashcroft. Missouri voters decided that the dead candidate, Mel Carnahan, was preferable to the living Ashcroft, and on that foundation elected him to high office. In other words, a bad day for the pro-life cause.

– a shorter version of this article appeared in the August 24, 2012 edition of the National Post.

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