The 1972 fantasy novel Watership Down by Richard Adams was about the adventures of rabbits. It was written with careful consultation to the work of the late British naturalist Ronald Lockley whose book, “The Private Life of the Rabbitt” (1964) provided the scientific basis for the behavior of the rabbits in the story.
One very curious fact from that book came back to me upon hearing Representative Todd Akin’s now infamous “rape comment”. In the course of the narrative of Watership Down we come to learn that rabbits have the capability biologically to reabsorb their fetuses if their living space is too small or they have inadequate nutrition. Unlike abortion, the products of conception are not expelled or removed but reabsorbed by the body.
Republican Todd Akin is the sitting U.S. Representative for Missouri’s 2nd congressional district. He is challenging incumbent senior Senator Claire McCaskill for her U.S. Senate seat. Mr. Akin sits on the Committee on Science, Space and Technology among others.
Mr. Akin stated that, in instances of “legitimate rape” (whatever that means) women’s bodies are capable of “taking care of that (meaning pregnancy)”. And so I wondered to myself if this man may be confusing his facts. As a healthcare practitioner who has taught sexuality to adolescents I have been careful to do my research so that I provide accurate information. And I know of no similar mechanism in women analogous to that of rabbits.
Now I think it is reasonable to expect our lawmakers to know, check and be able to back up their facts. That seems to me to be a very basic expectation. And this is even more crucial for someone who sits on said science committee.
But the “rape comment”, in addition to being incredibly insensitive and offensive to women, men, scientists, etc., seems to reflect something else. In a psychiatric exam such fact/fantasy substitution is known as confabulation, the filling in of the holes in one’s memory with something one believes to be close to the lost memory. It is a sign of severe mental confusion and should be referred to a doctor post-haste.
Mr. Akin is also a member of the eerily right-wing conservative Tea Party. As such he espouses extremely conservative views pandering (as all politicians do) to the emotionally charged issues which he believes will motivate people to vote for him. But I think this comment reflects something even more heinous than simple empty campaign promises. I think that, in the desire to substitute scripture for law, there is a necessity to find a way to deny the obvious damage that would be caused by something like making abortion illegal. So why not make up a story that sounds like it might work to the uneducated, uncritical masses? That way they can feel like their scripture is correct and that any pain caused is due to natural causes or is at least somehow the fault of the victim.
But, Mr. Akin, we are not talking about rabbits here, we are talking about women, about human beings who should have the right to control their own bodies just as (I’m sure) you control your own. And substituting the memory of a fantasy story for science facts does harm to your constituency who deserve to be made aware of scientific facts, not fantasy in making their choice of a politician to represent them. It is antithetical to one who sits on a science committee and is unprofessional and unethical.
Many Republican leaders, particularly women, have called for Mr. Akin to quit the race. They are outraged and angered by his behavior. And they are right to do so. I think he should drop out of the race and resign from his Representative seat. But there is a larger issue in that Mr. Akin is only one most recent example of such behavior and this behavior reflects a style of thinking which characterizes the far right and politicians in general especially around election time. That issue is the willful distortion of facts from someone in a position of power and (in the ideal world) respect.
If I as a nurse were to intentionally distort medical facts to one or more of my patients (regardless of my religious beliefs) I would stand to lose my license. My profession is regulated and its practitioners are expected to utilize knowledge and facts based on the best available data according to defined practice standards. The same holds true for teachers, social workers, veterinarians, physicians, chiropractors, architects, cosmetologists, engineers, etc. But apparently such safeguards are not available to us with our lawmakers.