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Wingnut Theories on Rape and the Female Body: A Taxonomy

Another week, another Republican candidate in trouble for impolitic remark about a subject that really ought not to vex even a half-skilled politician: Rape. You’d think any good conservative could fulminate about needing to lock up rapists, and then shut up. But, instead, 2012 has seen a slew of candidates opt to expound about the biology and sociology of rape instead. Not that they're monolithic. True to the big tent nature of the GOP, a unified theory of rape, God, and pregnancy has yet to emerge. Below, a handy guide to the various theories on the subject:

Divine Conception Theorists

The theory of divine conception holds that when rape results in pregnancy, that’s because God planned it that way. Just this week, Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock got all choked up as he explained this in a debate with opponent Joe Donelly. Struggling not to cry, he said, “I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen.” 

If Mourdock is 2012’s Galileo of the sacred-rape theory, the Copernicus is surely Sharron Angle, who came within a hair of winning Harry Reid’s Senate seat in 2010. When a reporter asked her, “So in other words, rape and incest would not be something…?” Angle responded, “You know, I’m a Christian. And I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives, and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations. And we need to have a little faith in many things.”

Natural Contraception Theorists

The theory of divine contraception, by contrast, gracefully solves the ethical dilemma of rape exceptions by hypothesizing that our human bodies would not allow to occur as a result of rape. No rape-related pregnancies, no need to rape exemptions to abortion bans. 

The theory’s most famous proponent is Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin. Asked whether abortion should be legal in cases of rape, Akin said, “Well, you know, people always want to try to make that one of those things. Well, how do you slice this particularly tough, sort of ethical… It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Like any good theorist, Akin was improving on years of rigorous study produced by other scholars. The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta explains this theory’s long and mystifying history.

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Medical Utopians

When faced with the issue of abortion in cases where the mother’s life may be at stake, the GOP’s medical utopians trade faith in God for faith in science. In this world, modern medicine is so amazing that no mother’s life would ever be at risk from a pregnancy. 

Though few actual doctors share this idea, its most visible champion is Chicago Tea Partier Joe Walsh. Thanks to “advances in science and technology,” he recently explained, abortion is no longer ever medically necessary to save a mother’s life. “With modern technology and science, you cant find one instance,” the Congressman told reporters last week. “There’s no such exception as life of the mother, and as far as health of the mother, same thing.”

Rape Downplayers

To the GOP’s rape downplayers, the traumatic crime of rape is not that different from various unhappy varieties of consensual sex–and pregnancies from rape should thus be treated like pregnancies from things like, say, premarital sex.   

The greatest champion of this theory is Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith. Smith politely disagrees with Todd Akin’s theory of divine contraception, though he sympathized with Akin’s search for the solution to abortion demand. “I lived something similar to that with my own family,” he said, referring to his daughter’s premarital pregnancy, which was the result of completely consensual sex.

Here is piece of the transcript of Smith explaining this complicated theory more thoroughly:

Reporter: Similar how?

Smith: Uh, having a baby out of wedlock.

Reporter: That’s similar to rape?

Smith: No, no, no, but… put yourself in a father’s situation, yes. It is similar. But, back to the original, I’m pro-life, period.

It’s pretty cutting edge stuff, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t quite wrap your head around it.

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