In the firestorm following comments made by Rep. Todd Akin, Republican nominee for the Missouri Senate, the blast has been directed at Akin's character in light of a blundered interview more than at his ideas. As a result, the pro-life view he stands for is under fire as well. While I know little about Akin's character — which is important to consider given his position — I can address what he said.
Akin, when asked about exceptions to his pro-life stance in cases of rape, claimed that in cases of "legitimate rape," a woman's physiological reactions work to prevent fertilization from taking place — a kind of shut-down mechanism — and that cases of pregnancies resulting from rape are rare. (Scan an article and see a video clip of the interview here.)
His off-the-cuff remarks were unsubstantiated, and unwise. Even if he believed them to be true, they weren't necessary to make his case (He later claimed that he "misspoke" during the interview.). There are many things — good things — that can be said to bolster the case for life, but the issue of rape is hard-hitting and the answerer must zero in on the central question: "What is the unborn?"
Akin's remarks that followed were more on point — he said that while punishment was needed as a consequence to rape, that punishment should fall on the rapist and not on the innocent child (paraphrased) — and had he just gone with those thoughts minus the other, he might still be under fire, but it would be for consistency in his pro-life stance. Earlier in the same interview, he actually answered the issue of ectopic pregnancies fairly well.
We live in a culture in which stereotyping is knee-jerk. The pro-choice crowd has, at least in the media, used this mishap to make Akin a poster-child for pro-lifers. The name-calling has extended from Akin to those who share his beliefs on the abortion issue. This is unfortunate, and is just as much a failure to stay on point as Akin's unhelpful aside was.
While labels have their place and can be helpful in dialogue, to paint with such a broad brush reveals a serious lack of careful thinking.
What we say, with or without thinking, matters. I challenge those on both sides of the debate to be more diplomatic, especially with what's at stake.