The Washington Post

Todd Akin’s real sin

Rep. Todd Akin is in deep trouble, but it might not be for the part of his comment that everyone is focusing on.

The Missouri GOP Senate candidate's problem is not so much that he made an odd claim about rape rarely causing pregnancy -- though that, by itself, is very bad. An equal if not greater problem is the two words he used to make the claim: "legitimate rape."

(Christian Gooden/AP)

Akin's status as a viable candidate is in serious jeopardy the day after a local TV station ran an interview in which Akin said that "from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy from rape) is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

An odd and totally non-scientific theory about women's reproductive systems -- which this undoubtedly is -- is bad enough by itself. But by using the words "legitimate rape," Akin opened up a whole other can of worms for himself and may have cost himself a seat in the Senate.

Here's why:

The phrase "legitimate rape," on its surface, casts doubt on the fact that a rape actually took place. By throwing that adjective in front of the word "rape," it's as if Akin is accusing many women of alleging rapes that never happened. Not good.

And, in fact, this isn't the first time Akin has ventured down that road. In 1991, as a state lawmaker, he suggested that wives may use a new marital rape law against their husbands in order to gain leverage during divorce negotiations.

Akin said at the time that the law might be used "in a real messy divorce as a tool and a legal weapon to beat up on the husband." He did support the law, though.

In addition, the words "legitimate rape" were used in most of the headlines recapping Akin's claim -- not to mention Democratic attacks. The gaffe is now defined by that handy and very ugly little two-word phrase that will dog Akin from now until Election Day -- or until he drops out, which some big-name Republicans are now calling on him to do).

If Akin had used the words "legitimate rape" in some other context, the story would have been about what exactly that meant -- and why he used that qualifier in front of the word "rape." Instead, the story for now is about his strange claim about the female reproductive system.

If he's going to somehow survive, though, he's going to have to answer for both. And despite a half-hearted statement saying he "misspoke," Akin hasn't really addressed either.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.



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