Religious right peddles myths to control women
US congressman Todd Akin is part of a long tradition of the religious right denying women agency over their bodies, writes FIONOLA MEREDITH
IF YOU’RE a politician, there are the things you secretly believe and then there are the things you say.
This week, US Republican congressman Todd Akin’s mouth ran away from him when he was asked about his opposition to abortion, even in the case of pregnancy resulting from rape. In a now notorious response, he said: “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Let’s leave aside the profoundly offensive idea of “legitimate rape” (the opposite of which, by implication, is soft, cuddly, harmless rape) and focus on Akin’s ludicrous central claim. Does he really believe women’s reproductive systems have an in-built border patrol force, designed to hunt down and kill hostile sperm?
The unpleasant logical corollary of this is that if a raped woman becomes pregnant it is the fault of her body, which has presumably failed to whip down the cervical portcullis in time.
Akin is now desperately backtracking from his comments but you can bet he is far from alone in clinging to such crackpot notions. He is merely the latest in a long, ignominious tradition of men who mythologise women’s procreative capacities while denying them agency over their bodies.
They are unashamed to play fast and loose with science, which is not surprising, because this is not about cool, clear, objective facts. It is about manipulation, power and control.
Nor are such reprehensible tactics confined to the American religious right. They have been successfully exported all over the world, particularly the unproven, fear-mongering claims that there are causal links between abortion and breast cancer or depression.
Here in Ireland, the prominent anti- abortion website prolifeinfo.iehas been peddling equally spurious nonsense. The site states that trauma from rape “may bring into play some natural defence mechanisms that reduce the likelihood of pregnancy, such as hormonal change and spasms of the Fallopian tubes which inhibit ovulation or fertilisation”.
It bases this outlandish suggestion on a 35-year-old journal article that focused on the sexual performance of the rapist during the assault, rather than the victim’s ordeal.
Anti-abortion campaigners are not the only religiously inspired zealots who use garbled science, imported direct from the US, to advance their aims. The Young Earth creationist lobby has practically turned it into an art form. Creationists, who believe God created the world 6,000 years ago, insist that every word of the Bible is the literal truth.