by John Schachter
There’s not much that hasn’t been said in the last few days regarding the flap over Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) and his inane views on rape and abortion. But let’s not lose sight of the broader issues at stake over reproductive rights by focusing too narrowly on the narrow-minded and distorted views of this ignoramus. Reproductive rights are under assault from myriad directions beyond the extremes of the political spectrum.
During the 2011 ACS National Convention, former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger criticized heavy-handed efforts by the states to take apart reproductive rights during a discussion over the Affordable Care Act. “It is really ironic and disturbing to hear that liberty lecture come from people talking about [a] government takeover of medical care, many of whom would legislate the imposition upon women of unnecessary waiting periods, government-scripted lectures, compulsory sonogram viewings, and government mandated unsafe medical procedures,” Dellinger said.
Rep. Akin’s views, alas, are not far afoot from those of many congressional leaders and so-called mainstream representatives of accepted interest groups. While it is refreshing to see leaders of both major political parties weigh in with stinging criticism of Rep. Akin’s misogynistic 19th century views, we shouldn’t ignore the remaining everyday threats to reproductive freedom. State after state continue to restrict abortion rights seemingly guaranteed 40 years ago in Roe v. Wade but slowly being chipped away in the years since.
We have Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) to thank for the depths to which the debate over reproductive rights has sunk. You may recall that last year on the floor of the Senate, Kyl attacked Planned Parenthood for “devot[ing] more than 90 percent of its resources to providing abortions.” When confronted with facts showing that the 90 percent was actually more like 3 percent, Kyl’s spokesperson said that the senator’s assertion – made on the floor of the U.S. Senate – “was not intended to be a factual statement.” Ah, that makes it OK.
Reliance on suspect science -- though it strains credibility to refer too much, if any of it, as “science” – has become a keystone for certain policymakers. When the facts and overwhelming weight of evidence don’t support a position, supporters merely create a pseudoscientific (aka completely made up) defense of their otherwise unsupportable position. Whether we’re talking about “intelligent design,” or a foreign-born President Obama, climate change’s existence or President George W. Bush having been complicit in 9/11, vaccines causing mental harm to children or the existence of the moon landing -- having actual facts on your side doesn’t seem to be a precondition anymore for having your argument taken seriously. And that’s helping to demean the political process.
When people treat Donald Trump (see above references to Obama’s birthplace and impact of vaccines) like a serious contributor to political discourse -- and grant him a prominent role at a national convention -- then we’re debasing the system even more. If that’s even possible.
What Rep. Akin said has warranted the tsunami of criticism engulfing him. But let’s not think the debate over reproductive rights is any closer to being over because of this one incident. Let it be a sobering reminder that reproductive rights will always face attack from opponents who will ignore constitutional rights and guarantees, legislative and judicial precedent, science and facts, truth and candor -- all to promote their ideological agendas.