Todd Akin, the Republican challenger for Claire McCaskill’s U.S. Senate seat representing Missouri, has made himself a national figure so far this election season by declaring that women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape” and claiming that abortion clinics routinely perform abortions on women who aren’t actually pregnant. But what’s garnered less attention, until this week, has been Akin’s history of not just saying but also doing disturbing things. His history shows a lifelong dedication to a misogynist right-wing ideology that flirts with using force to get its way when persuasion fails.
Akin has friends in high places. He spent his time in Congress working with vice-presidential candidate and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, with whom he crafted anti-choice legislation that would—surprise—redefine rape narrowly to eliminate many rapes that don’t involve overt violence to subdue the victim. This would better reflect Akin’s belief that many to most rapes are not “legitimate.” It’s tempting to imagine that radicals like Akin are outside the mainstream but, as I’ve written before, he and his ilk have come to control the party. So, who is Todd Akin?
It’s no secret that Akin used to be part of militant abortion groups that have lulled the public into calling them “protesters,” even though their tactics—taunting abortion-clinic patients and stalking providers in a threatening manner—are better described as harassment that verges on terrorism. We’ve grown to accept these ghouls who’ve become part of abortion-clinic scenery and who clearly long for the days when sexually disobedient women could be put in the stocks.
What’s faded from memory somewhat is how much worse they used to be, before a string of vicious murders and bombings in the 1990s caused Congress to pass federal legislation in 1994, signed by President Bill Clinton, that increases the penalties for using physical force to close clinics and scare patients away from getting abortions. Todd Akin “protested” in those days of extreme anti-choice militancy, and as the liberal research group People for the American Way has reported, was arrested in 1987 as part of a Mother’s Day attack on a St. Louis clinic, when militants tried to physically block patients from entering the clinic. (Celebrating Mother’s Day by trying to physically force childbirth on the unwilling sounds an awful like celebrating Labor Day by strike-breaking.) The Huffington Post revealed Tuesday that Akin had been arrested at least three previous times for criminal trespass in 1985 during invasions of abortion clinics, events that included screaming invective at patients and trying to block access to clinics.
Akin was caught on tape last year bragging to a right-wing group about his arrest, and when People for the American Way confronted him about it, he claimed he would fill them in on the details later. His campaign broke that promise, and little wonder why. The group’s researchers dug around and found that Akin associated with the Pro-Life Direct Action League and Whole Life Ministries, groups that used aggressive action aimed directly at private citizens as the mainstay of their activism.
As reported by Salon, Akin’s aggressive activities didn’t stop with his recorded attempts to force individual women to bear children by blocking access to abortion. Akin once publicly defended a friend who assaulted another woman at an abortion clinic. It was 1989, and Akin was campaigning for Congress and serving as a Missouri state representative. Using official state letterhead, Akin wrote a letter on behalf of the friend, Teresa Frank, who was convicted of battery for shoving another woman to the ground during a July action at an abortion clinic. The language he used further reveals his ugly, outdated view of women, even those he’s defending: “Teresa is a deeply sensitive and caring person,” he wrote, “but along with this, she is also one very frightened little girl.”
At the time, Frank was 41 years old, a mother, and a friend of Akin’s wife. But Akin’s is a worldview in which women don’t ever get to be full adults but are, at best, little girls. That persists even when he’s not accusing them of inventing rape to cover up for having consensual sex, or suggesting they’re so stupid that doctors routinely trick them into thinking they’re pregnant so they can perform unnecessary abortions on them. It’s easy to see how a man with such a low opinion of women convinced himself that he has the power and the right to physically stop them from exercising their reproductive rights. To him, women fall somewhere on the creation scale between small children and wild animals, and the only appropriate response is to exert control instead of letting them make up their own minds about their lives and their bodies.
After Clinton signed the law that attempted to squelch the rising tide of violence and harassment against abortion providers—activism that Akin participated in—seven clinic workers were murdered between 1993 and 1998, before the violence receded. In the past decade, only Dr. George Tiller, a doctor in Kansas who performed late-term abortions, was killed by such violence, in 2009. Most anti-abortion militants are limited to yelling invective or trying to shame women who want abortions by passive-aggressively praying at them. Most understand that aggressive actions can result in federal prosecutions. But as Akin’s continued pride in front of anti-choice audiences shows, this doesn’t mean the movement has abandoned the ideologies that justify the use of force to mandate that all pregnant women give birth. They’ve just learned to elect their warriors to political office, where they can use the government to exert the force that militants used to employ directly.