Protestors gather across the street from the Jasper County Republican Headquarters in Joplin, Missouri, where Republican Senate candidate Representative Todd Akin was meeting with supporters, Wednesday, September 26, 2012. Akin won two high-profile Republican endorsements Wednesday, a day after guaranteeing his candidacy would continue despite calls for him to quit because of comments about rape and pregnancy he since has apologized for.
Tuesday morning, on a tip from American Bridge 21st Century, a liberal PAC that conducts opposition research on Republicans, I clipped and posted videos for Slate’s Double X blog demonstrating some of the paranoid flights of fancy and routine misogyny that have peppered Todd Akin’s speeches on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Akin, who is challenging Democrat Claire McCaskill for her Missouri Senate seat, became infamous after he said that, based on no science whatsoever, pregnancies rarely happen in the case of “legitimate rape.” That remark was hardly out of character; he is indeed every inch the misogynist and denier of reality that his comment suggests.
The videos prove that Akin is wholly the product of the movement conservatism that controls the Republican Party. While he may be a bit freer of tongue than many Republicans, his basic premises don’t differ from theirs: Feminism is evil. Reality can be denied if it conflicts with ideology. Conservatives are the real victims of this shifting, politically correct America, not the various groups of people they oppress and demonize.
In one of the clips, Akin goes on at length comparing abortion providers to terrorists:
The terrorist is a terrorist, and what does that mean? Well, it means he wants to compel you into doing something because you’re so afraid of him. That’s not very similar, is it, to what we believe, that God gives people the right to life and then the right to liberty. The right to liberty is to be able to follow your own conscience without being terrorized by some opponent. So it is no big surprise that we fight the terrorists, because they are fundamentally un-American. And yet we have terrorists in our own culture called abortionists.
Akin is right that terrorists are people who use violence and the threat of it to try to bend people to their political will. The FBI defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” Of course, his accusation that this is what abortion providers do makes no sense. Abortion providers don’t commit acts of violence to get their way. They don’t try to intimidate or coerce anyone. They simply hang out a shingle and invite women who want abortions to come to them. Abortion providers, after all, work in the service of choice.
That doesn’t mean the abortion debate is free of terrorism or other forms of harassment and coercion by those who want people to comply with their political demands. Except that Akin has the roles reversed. Far from being the terrorists in this equation, abortion providers are the victims. Every week, providers in this country have to endure crowds harassing them in front of their clinics under the guise of “protest.” Many providers are stalked by anti-choicers. Their homes are targeted by picketers. “Wanted” posters with their pictures and identifying information have been distributed among anti-choice activists. One doctor who indicated that she planned to provide abortion in the future faced death threats. Clinics are vandalized, broken into, and set on fire. A clinic landlord had to deal with anti-choicers stalking his daughter at her middle school. Doctors have been injured and killed at the hands of right-wing terrorists, most recently in 2009 when George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country who performed late-term abortions, was shot to death at his church in Kansas.
Such coercive actions unfortunately work. Tiller’s clinic shut its doors after he was assassinated. Just this week, a Brooklyn abortion clinic closed because the harassment from anti-choice obsessives had become too much for both the workers and the patients. A study published this month in the journal Contraception demonstrates a correlation between anti-choice harassment and state legislatures passing abortion restrictions. While no causal relationship has been determined, the study does show that aggressive street tactics contribute to an overall atmosphere that makes it hard for providers to operate. As Akin noted later in his remarks, the number of abortion providers has declined in this country. It’s not because they are terrorists, as Akin supposes. It’s because they’re terrorized.
Akin cannot be unaware of this. He has admitted to being arrested for illegally blockading a clinic and trying to physically force women not to exercise their legal right to abortion, which means he was using unlawful force. The victims? Abortion providers and their patients. In 1995, Akin openly praised the 1st Missouri Volunteers, who were headed for a time by Tim Dreste, an anti-abortion activist who led a series of invasions of abortion clinics in 1988. There’s no reason to participate in and support aggressive and often illegal actions against abortion providers unless your intention is to scare them out of business.
Akin’s move of flipping the role of victim and oppressor may sound extreme, but it’s another example of what has become one of the most common rhetorical strategies on the right. In the topsy-turvy world of right-wing rhetoric, billionaires are hapless victims mercilessly abused by the working class. White people are victimized by affirmative action and black people demanding “reparations.” Men are marginalized by evil “feminazis,” and gay people aren’t asking for rights but are trying to destroy “traditional marriage.” In the funhouse mirror of reality that is the conservative worldview, why not just take it to the next level and reverse the role of the terrorist and the victim? The problem with Akin is not that he’s an extremist but that he’s a fine representation of the Republican Party of today.