Opinion - Phil Gingrey's legitimate screw-up

Republicans still can't shut up about rape

Republican lawmakers spent 2012 enthusiastically exercising their beloved Second Amendment rights, blasting bullet holes in their own feet, and simultaneously assassinating their political careers by saying lots of goofball things about rape and abortion.

Probably the most memorable instance of conservative campaign suicide was Congressman Todd Akin's assertion that there's a thing called "legitimate rape," and that the "doctors" with whom the Missouri Republican conferred over the years have told him "legitimate rapes" rarely lead to pregnancy because "the body has ways to shut that whole thing down."

Just about a month later, Richard Mourdock, a now-distant memory of a man who was running for the U.S. Senate in Indiana, decided it was politically expedient to suggest that sometimes it's God's will that rape victims be impregnated by their attackers.

There was also Rep. Steve King, and then Rep. Joe "abortion has never saved a life" Walsh.

The men apologized for their comments (or, at least, the way their comments were interpreted), but, alas, voters weren't inclined to accept their apologies. God's will, I suppose.

A new year began. The din that resulted from the previous year's idiotic comments had finally died. Then, last week, Congressman Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, dragged his soapbox into the Smyrna Community Center and revived the rape discussion we so badly missed:

"Part of the reason the Dems still control the Senate is because of comments made in Missouri by Todd Akin and Indiana by Mourdock were considered a little bit over the top," he told the attendees of a Cobb Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting. "... In Missouri, Todd Akin was asked by a local news source about rape and he said, 'Look, in a legitimate rape situation' — and what he meant by legitimate rape was just, look, someone can say I was raped: a scared-to-death 15-year-old that becomes impregnated by her boyfriend and then has to tell her parents — that's pretty tough — and might on some occasion say, 'Hey, I was raped.' That's what he meant when he said legitimate rape versus non-legitimate rape. I don't find anything so horrible about that."

All right, so Gingrey thinks Akin was just being pragmatic by pointing out that a teenage girl might lie about being raped because she got pregnant and she's scared, although I'm pretty sure that's not what Akin was saying at all. Gingrey didn't leave it at that. See, the septuagenarian statesman isn't just a politician, he's an OB-GYN, so his is the wisdom of a man with more than 35 years in the vagina-gazing biz. He continued:

"I've delivered lots of babies, and I know about these things. What Akin said is true. We tell infertile couples all the time that are having trouble conceiving because of the woman not ovulating, 'Just relax. Drink a glass of wine. And don't be so tense and uptight, because all that adrenaline can cause you not to ovulate.' So Akin was partially right, wasn't he?"

A rhetorical question has never sounded quite so smug. But, c'mon. Wasn't Akin right? Partially? Now, ladies, if you really want to get knocked up, kick back and have a glass of Pinot. Noir or Grigio, your choice. But make sure not to get raped. Because your body might forget to "shut the whole thing down."

(The congressman later tried to backtrack his comments in a statement, saying he does not "defend, nor do I stand by, the remarks made by Rep. Akin and Mr. Mourdock. In my attempt to provide context as to what I presumed they meant, my position was misconstrued.")

So much of what Gingrey packed into the few, quick sentences he delivered at the Smyrna event is so stupid and bizarre, that it's tough to parse. But, I'll try. Let's start with the stupid. How can a man — a lawmaker, a doctor, a "smart guy" — lack the self-reflexive capacity to realize that by talking about rape in terms of his colleagues' respective political demises, which all resulted from talking about rape, that he might be flirting with his own (political demise, not rape)? Perhaps it was his first time broaching the subject in a public setting, but it's completely insane to perpetuate the same rhetoric and not expect people to react just as poorly to it, knowledge of obstetrics or none.

Then, of course, are Gingrey's flaccid attempts to justify Akin's comments about rape, a thing that seems so superfluous this many months after they were originally uttered. According to Gingrey, all Akin was getting at is that in some cases, women — young women in particular — have consensual sex, then lie about it and say they were raped. Maybe that has happened, maybe several times. But ask any rape counselor: The problem isn't that rape cases are being fabricated or over-reported; in fact, they're vastly underreported.

In late 2011, I interviewed several professionals who work closely with rape victims for a story about the number of rapes reported in Atlanta jumping 79 percent from the previous year. According to preliminary numbers from the Atlanta Police Department's Week 52 crime report for 2012, the number of reported rapes increased an additional 23 percent last year.

The question among law enforcement officials and rape experts is whether more rapes are actually taking place or whether more women are mustering the courage to come forward and officially report them.

A majority of rapes are perpetrated by individuals the victims know in one way or another, be they acquaintances or family members, so victims can be reluctant to come forward for fear of incriminating a person they're close to, or because they're just embarrassed.

In discussing the rise in Atlanta rape cases, not a single person suggested the possibility that the uptick was the result of promiscuous 15-year-olds lying about having sex against their will to explain a pregnancy to their parents.

It's sad that a man whom local women have long trusted with their reproductive health would call into question the "legitimacy" of rape in the name of sticking up for a political ally. And it's sadder still that Gingrey probably believes what he said. But now I think we might have a better idea which doctor gave Akin that ill-fated anatomy lesson.

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