How Women Can Silence Todd Akin: Get Out the Vote in Election 2012

You've probably heard from at least one of these politicians this election season.

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mis.): “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy resulting from rape] is really rare.  If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.): "There is no such exception as life of the mother, and as far as health of the mother, same thing, with advances in science and technology." 

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.): “There are very few pregnancies as a result of rape, fortunately, and incest — compared to the usual abortion, what is the percentage of abortions for rape? It is tiny. It is a tiny, tiny percentage.”

Over the past few months we’ve heard from many candidates for public office who simply do not know their facts when it comes to women’s reproductive health. But when they get to office, you can bet they’re going to legislate about it anyway.

Last week in the Pennsylvania House, state lawmakers introduced a bill to eliminate any increased welfare benefits from women who conceive while receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF, also known as food stamps). This “cost-saving” measure included an exception for victims of rape, but only if they can prove to the state that they reported the assault.

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, only 46% of all rapes and sexual assaults are reported to police. And, what with a despicably high national rape kit backlog, only 3% of rapists will ever serve a day in prison. There are a myriad of reasons why a woman may be unable or unwilling to report a rape or sexual assault. (To name a few, fear of retaliation, inability to take time off work or to find child care in order to go to the police to file the report, post-traumatic stress or depression.) If you gave birth to a child conceived by rape three years ago and never reported it, this law will leave you out of luck.

When your exception needs exceptions, is it really an exception at all?

Meanwhile, medical health professionals, like Virginia’s former health commissioner, Dr. Karen Remley, are being forced to resign from public office in order to avoid enforcing medically dangerous laws passed by anti-abortion legislatures. At their meeting last week, the American Academy of Family Physicians decried the spate of anti-abortion laws passed this year as an “unprecedented legislative interference with the physician-patient relationship, including legally mandated unnecessary medical procedures,” such as ultrasounds for women undergoing elective abortions.

If only legislators would listen to doctors, rather than pretending to be them. As it turns out, only 17 of the 437 members of Congress are actual medical doctors. Targeted regulations of abortion clinics, forced ultrasounds, biased counseling, waiting periods, and procedure bans are bad medicine, and doctors wouldn’t put them into practice of their own accord.

If you value women’s health, or even just the validity of that thing called “science," make sure you vote this election.

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Alison Tanner

Alison is a recent graduate of the University of California - Davis, where she studied political science and women's studies and served the student body as an ASUCD Senator. She is currently a legal assistant for the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. Views expressed here are her own.

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