Three days from now, in the hurricane-lashed hull of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, at the temporal cross coordinates of Congressman Todd Akin’s confession and the Republican Party’s communion, we’re finally going to see what’s truly mesmerized this white, middle-aged, male political conglomerate for the last two generations, and that’s the sexual freedom of women. The language has always been there, but until this presidential election it’s been lip service; next Monday, however, when the Republican platform is approved by the party’s convention, all the fear and loathing that women’s sexuality engenders will be splayed in the aisles before an electorate newly alerted to the party’s unforgiving position on abortion courtesy of Akin’s imprudence. The Akin vocabulary, and the platform’s, may be one of “abortion” and “rape,” but those words are symptoms of what really afflicts the party, which is the intolerable vision of women having sex on their own terms with impunity. This is what much of the anti-abortion movement detests and always has detested in the name of “life.”
Let’s hasten to be clear that among those who oppose abortion, many and maybe most are sincerely troubled by the morality of it. Let’s hasten to add that even some of us in the squeamish middle who consider ourselves pro-choice attach to that choice the ifs, ands, and buts that go with a deliberation so spiritual as when an entity ceases to be part of a woman’s body and crosses the threshold into its own humanity. Let’s acknowledge that in the second half of a pregnancy some of us hear abortion—as timed by the metaphysical clock of the conscience—tick-tocking ever louder and closer to infanticide, and that except when the mother’s health is profoundly jeopardized we might even go so far as to agree with Republicans that late-term abortions are altogether too late. Let’s concede that on such an ethically combustible issue, a compelling case can be made that public funds shouldn’t subsidize such a private procedure, and that a decision best left to the province of personal choice results in a consequence best left to the province of personal responsibility. Let’s say that, between the one extreme that would outlaw any procedure under any circumstances beginning with conception, and the other extreme that would allow any procedure under any circumstances up to the moment of birth, the rest of us believe the question of abortion is complicated.
Be all that as it is, what’s characterized significant segments of the pro-life movement since it began 40 years ago is a hostility to sex itself, namely sexual behavior that isn’t strictly reproductive. What characterizes much of the pro-life movement is a hostility to sexual fulfillment, namely a women’s sexual fulfillment, which warrants punishment by maternity—a head-spinning concept of righteousness. If the designation of Sandra Fluke as a slut on the airwaves some months back by Rush Limbaugh wasn’t a tip-off, the Akin Manifesto of this past weekend is; thus the premise that not only is rape a phony excuse used by women to terminate unwanted pregnancies and that a “legitimate” rape inevitably triggers a bodily rejection of pregnancy, but its more important corollary: If you were raped and got pregnant, then you were never really raped at all. This invokes the logic of medieval witch trials, whereby the accused is thrown into the middle of a lake and only proves her innocence by drowning.
None of this is new. What’s new is the alignment of events and words, and the stampede by the Republican Party—including ardent warriors like Limbaugh and Ann Coulter—to chastise Akin in the very same 48-hour period during which Akin’s stand against abortion even in the case of rape is being restated more elegantly in a platform that’s been blithely overlooked at conventions past but will now be on conspicuous parade. This kind of politicization of sex on a national scale hasn’t happened before in this country. It hasn’t happened in this country because down through the centuries, politicizing sex is something that’s taken place only in totalitarian states and theocracies like China and Iran. The Republican platform is not a proclamation of “sanctity” or (if you can stand to wrap your head around the suggestion) a fulfillment of the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Rather it’s the expression of a sexual male hysteria that’s driven the issue of abortion no less than it’s driven every issue having to do with the oppression of women, something that Akin’s indiscretion has done us the favor of revealing beyond reasonable contradiction.