In case you've missed the news, Todd Akin, a Republican congressman from Missouri running for Senate, was asked about abortion in the case of rape. His response:
"First of all, 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."
Needless to say, such remarks proved offensive. Akin appeared to be making distinctions between violent rape and other forms (statutory perhaps?) as he sought to answer the question about abortion. Other Republicans are calling for him to pull out of the race, while the Romney-Ryan campaign quickly tried to distance itself from the remarks.
Rape is a horrific crime with countless emotional and psychological repercussions. No one should ever speak of such an atrocity without having their heart gripped with sympathy for the victim. Any time we speak about such an unspeakable act of violation, we ought to consider the weight of our words.
Even so, as disturbing as Akin's remarks are, I am concerned about the conflation of issues that suddenly appeared in the aftermath. Once the comment went viral, Republicans all over the country began distancing themselves from the remarks (rightly so) while also claiming to be pro-life except in the case of rape. (Romney is an example.)
The media circus moved quickly from discussion of Akin's remarks to a wider discussion about the legitimacy of abortion in a tough case. And some "pro-life" politicians took the bait, not only condemning Akin's unfortunate remarks but also declaring their support for abortion in this particular case.
Let me be clear: Allowing abortion in the case of rape is not the way to express sympathy toward a victim of this crime. Abortion only destroys the life of another victim.
That's why I wish the conversation with Akin had gone more like this:
Host: So you also believe abortion ought to be outlawed in the case of rape?
Akin: Rape is a horrible crime, and a rapist ought to be prosecuted under the fullest extent of the law. I stand for human rights over against anyone who would violate the life of another - from the rapist to the abortionist.
Host: So you'd outlaw abortion in the case of rape?
Akin: Absolutely. As I said, I stand for human rights for all, including the unborn.
Host: But why should a woman who gets pregnant out of no fault of her own be forced to carry a pregnancy to term?
Akin: It is a tragic situation indeed. And my heart goes out to any woman in such circumstances. That's why I could never recommend that she abort her child. Inflicting violence upon another innocent victim, in this case the baby, is not the way to move past the tragedy of her own innocence being taken.
Host: So you'd pass laws that would force her to carry on the pregnancy?
Akin: Like I said, I stand for the rights of all human beings. Even in a difficult situation like rape, the unborn child should have human rights. We must not let circumstances dictate to us when humans have rights. Otherwise, we could justify all sorts of atrocities in the name of "difficult circumstances."
Host: But having a child as a result of rape would be a terrible reminder of the crime, wouldn't it?
Akin: That's possible. But let me ask you another question. If a woman chose to carry her child to term and then found that every time she looked at her infant she remembered the horror of the rape, would we allow her to smother the baby?
Host: Of course not!
Akin: You're right. Because no matter how difficult her circumstances, we recognize the humanity of the infant. Unfortunately, many in our society are too narrow-minded to recognize the humanity of the unborn.
Host: But your opinion on the humanity of the infant shouldn't be forced upon a woman who doesn't hold that view.
Akin: Biology textbooks and scientists tell us the same thing we see when we look at a 4-D ultrasound: the fetus is human. Now, you can make the case that the unborn human should not have rights. And many do. That's why unborn girls are aborted at a much higher rate than unborn boys, not only in places like China but in the United States as well. That's why the number of children with Down Syndrome has plummeted. That's why so many abortion clinics target inner-city areas with high minority populations. You see, once we begin to discriminate against some human beings, we are on the fast track to denying human rights for others.
Host: So you stand by your conviction that abortion should be outlawed even in the case of rape?
Akin: I believe that all innocent human life should be protected. So, yes. This difficult situation is about three people: the rapist, the mother, and the baby. Currently, there is no death penalty required for the rapist. I refuse to believe we ought to give an innocent victim a sentence more severe than the perpetrator of the crime.
Trevin Wax is the managing editor of The Gospel Project at Lifeway Christian Resources. He blogs regularly at Kingdom People. You can follow him on Twitter @TrevinWax.