An Appeal to Rep. Todd Akin
Dear Mr. Akin,
They say that Missouri is the “Show Me” state. Well, Rep. Akin, I’d like you to meet my daughter. I’d like to show you how dead wrong you are when you say that women rarely get pregnant from rape. I’m writing this letter to let you know that you definitely can, because it happened to me, and I have a 9 year old to prove it.
In your recent TV interview, broadcast to the people of St. Louis, now spread virally all over the nation, you stated “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” You actually made up a new rape category, calling it “legitimate rape” as if there were a kind of rape that wasn’t really so uncivil. Your egregiously ignorant statement presented as biological fact is not only 100% false and personally offensive, but it is also irresponsible and dangerous misinformation to spread.
To your credit, though, after your interview caused a firestorm, you said that you “misspoke.” But you only refer to the lack of empathy you showed for rape victims in the original TV appearance. You did not set the record straight about rape victims not being able to get pregnant. The myth is still out there, seeping into the brains of those who don’t know better.
You did not tell the truth about rape and pregnancy, and you have an ethical responsibility as a public servant to do so, because myths have real life consequences. 75% of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. Will believing the fallacy you have broadcast embolden those rapists who previously feared getting someone they know or are related to pregnant? It is akin to the deadly biological myth in some parts of the world that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS. In South Africa, children comprise 41% of the nation’s rape victims, primarily because of this myth.
Without you publicly correcting your false description of the basic biology of female human reproductive functions–which you describe as able to somehow magically foil a rapist’s naughty sperm at will–you harm women, you disrespect us, you disrespect me. And you disrespect my daughter, a child of rape, by denying the ongoing impact her mother’s rape has on her life, and will have on her children’s life, should she choose to have them. Imagine Father’s Day for her. Or imagine her feelings last spring when she was unable to participate in the Father/Daughter dance with her Girl Scout troop. Imagine the questions her friends ask, that other parents ask. They all want to know the story behind the smart little black girl with the single white mother. Imagine her learning her history, as I slowly tell her as age-appropriately as possible, about the obvious missing branch on the family tree. An inevitable annual school project, the Family Tree is displayed for all to see. Last year, my daughter just put the word “Africa” on that side of the tree. What is it like to not know your father, not even his name, but to know what kind of person he was by what he did to your mother? By you not telling the truth–that women do get pregnant from rape–you illegitimize even her illegitimacy.
Your inflexible position on abortion even in cases of rape completely discounts the ongoing psychological, economic, and social struggle for the mother of the child of rape and the reality of the cost to society in providing the social services resources they need to survive, let alone to thrive. My rape was a traumatic, humiliating event, involving more than one attacker, and robbery. I was not a well person at the time of the rape, and that experience didn’t help. I had struggled for 17 years with Major Depressive Disorder. I had been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder a year or so prior (partially attributed to becoming homeless in New York following an unwanted sexual advance from a close and trusted relative) I’d struggled for 12 years with alcoholism (a rampant family disease), and at the time of the pregnancy, I’d been wrestling a year with a crack addiction. In short, I was in no way fit, or ready to be a parent. Pregnancy–from a rape or otherwise–doesn’t cure addiction, mental illness or any other disease. Though today I am 9 years sober, the memory of that hellish period is vivid, lasting up to the hour of my daughter’s delivery–with an emergency c-section that, had I come in 2 minutes later, the surgeon told me, would have cost us both our lives.
Rep. Akin, please try to remember the very worst experience in your life, the most painful and unthinkable time, something that blindsided you. Imagine what it would be like to carry a constant reminder of that moment with you for 270 days. And then every day after that. Some women can’t. They choose abortion or adoption. Others decide to take on the Herculean task, and with exceptional support, some can pull it off. Others like me, are forced by consequences to go through the pregnancy because of addiction’s death grip on our minds, and subsequently, our finances. But we have the legal right to choose in this country, as limited as it is increasingly getting. Bodily sovereignty is a crucial part of recovery from a violent sexual assault. Taking that choice away would violate the victim yet again and prevent her from pursuing peace and healing by any means necessary. By denying this right, you sacrifice the living for a life that has yet to begin.
In your amended, post-firestorm statement, you said:
“As a member of Congress, I believe that working to protect the most vulnerable in our society is one of my most important responsibilities, and that includes protecting both the unborn and victims of sexual assault.”
But it doesn’t include protecting women, does it? Or girls? Rep. Akin, did you know that girls under 12 account for 15% of all the rapes in the U.S.? Forcing a girl to carry a rape pregnancy to term and expect her to raise the child is not protecting “the most vulnerable in our society”. Instead what you do is dehumanize a girl or a woman the minute she becomes pregnant. She is now regarded as the “useless flesh surrounding the uterus” as someone once put it. What you propose denies another human being equal personhood, the right to have sovereignty over her own body, and the human right to self-determine when, how, and if they will become parents.
Last week, CNN carried a horrifying story from the Dominican Republic, about a sixteen year old girl who died because the country’s abortion ban delayed her chemo treatment for leukemia. Her mother blames the government’s interference in her daughter’s body and medical care for her daughter’s death. I see you and your party’s philosophies and policies taking the United States to the same morbid place. As the government and church tried to decide on the best method to save the fetus, and as her mother begged physicians for help, her leukemia went untreated. Another example of sacrificing the living for a life that has yet to begin. How many bills restricting abortion will bring us to these situation? The U.S. comes closer to that with every proposed “personhood” amendment or abortion clinic shut-down. When conservatives in states like Kansas and Arizona are proposing that doctors be allowed to hide information from their patients if they think it could result in an abortion, it’s hard to deny that is where we are headed.
Even in your statement of “empathy” you reveal an enormous ignorance of the reality of the violent crime of rape in this country, and sadly it is shared by many.
“Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve.”
Rep. Akin, forcing the victim to carry a rape pregnancy to term is not the justice they deserve. The current statistic of 97 rapists out of 100 walking free is not the justice they deserve. Last year, you joined with GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as the two original co-sponsors of the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” a bill which would have narrowed the rape exception, providing that only pregnancies arising from “forcible rape” may be terminated, whatever that means. The primary targets of your effort with Paul Ryan were Medicaid recipients–the most unlikely to be able to afford an abortion, with the least resources to raise a child, leaving this vulnerable constituency effectively forced to carry their rapist’s baby to term. That is not the justice they deserve.
Rep. Akin, if you want to take action to avoid thousands of unwanted pregnancies per year, stop attacking women’s right to a legal abortion. Instead, why not work on finding a way to make men stop raping us and our children? “32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year,” according to The American Journal of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. If you want to defend life, why not protect the living? That includes the children born from rape.
Instead of cutting funding for programs like Medicaid, Head Start, WIC, and Food Stamps, why not work to ensure their success? The survival of these programs and the thriving of these children are inextricably linked. I know because I have used every single one of those programs, and I give those programs enormous credit for helping us survive, and to defy the odds. Despite our challenges, despite the inherent disadvantages of our circumstances–my daughter is now in the gifted program at her elementary school and reads far above her grade level.
Rep. Akin, I know what it’s like to live with mistakes. I was fortunate to have opportunities to atone for them. You have the same opportunity now. If you want the people of Missouri, and the people of this country, to believe that your apology is more than just words, this is your chance. Tell the truth about rape and pregnancy. The facts are there if you’re courageous enough to admit your mistake–and make it right. In the end, being pro-life isn’t enough. You need to fight for and protect the living.
To help raise awareness and impact change on the ground, please join me in supporting the “A is For” campaign.
Maureen Herman is the former bassist of Reprise/Warner Bros. recording artists Babes in Toyland. After leaving the band in 1996, Maureen wrote for Rolling Stone, Time Warner, and AOL, shortly becoming Associate Editor of Musician Magazine. She refers to 1999 through 2003 as “a tragicomedic hayride of pain and hilarity.” In 2008, she founded Project Noise, a nonprofit that “makes change louder” by amplifying the impact of nonprofits through media. Maureen produced videos for 2010 and 2011 media grant recipients Jail Guitar Doors and Get on the Bus. She is also a writer and a founding member of the Project Noise reproductive rights campaign. A is For. She lives in Los Angeles with her daughter.