Todd Akin is thinking of running for Senate again. Yes, that Todd Akin, the same man who managed to lose his run for the Senator from Missouri by telling a reporter that women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape” because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” But Akin is hardly the only imbecile on the right who feels the need to opine about female bodies while having some peculiar ideas of how they work. Here are some of the stranger examples of conservatives holding forth on how they think that women’s bodies or women’s health care works.
1. Swallowing vagina cameras. During a recent hearing on a medically unnecessary bill banning telemedicine abortions, state Rep. Vito Barbieri subjected pro-choice Dr. Julie Madsen to a bunch of confusing and weird questions, in clear hopes of tripping up her medically correct claim that telemedicine abortions are safe. He only caught up himself, during a lengthy digression about colonoscopies in which Madsen noted a patient can swallow a pill with a camera in it for a doctor to look in his colon. "Can this same procedure then be done in a pregnancy? Swallowing a camera and helping the doctor determine what the situation is?" Barbieri asked.
Madsen pointed out that no, swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina. "Fascinating. That makes sense," Barbieri replied while the crowd howled in laughter.
He later tried to write the moment off as rhetorical, but it was clear to everyone he thought he had a “gotcha” to show that doctors weren’t covering every base in looking at pregnancies before aborting them and got caught flat-footed by his own ignorance.
2. Women are “climate control” for embryos. Todd Akin’s ignorance about the female biology he obsesses over isn’t limited to speculation about rape. In 2005, he made a speech in the House where he basically argued that women are, quite literally, nothing but incubators. “Now an embryo may seem like some scientific or laboratory term, but in fact the embryo contains the unique information that defines a person,” he said. “All you add is food and climate control, and some time, and the embryo becomes you or me.”
Akin clearly wants to believe the uterus is basically like an incubator that does nothing more but sit and warm the eggs until they hatch. But not only is that view dehumanizing to women, but it’s just factually wrong. Pregnancy is a complex and often dangerous process for a woman that changes her body shape, her hormone levels, and even her feet. It’s a lot more involved than remembering to water your plants every day. But admitting that pregnancy affects women’s entire bodies and isn’t a matter of just having an incubator tucked into your tummy makes it that much harder to justify banning abortion and thereby forcing pregnancy on them. So Akin told a cute little lie instead.
3. It’s all abortion! You get the feeling that some anti-choicers believe that modern women get abortions on a weekly basis, like they are manicures or something. Sen. Jon Kyle confirmed that suspicion in 2011 when Republicans decided to shut down the entire federal government to destroy Planned Parenthood and stop it from its unholy mission of making it safer and healthier for people to have the sex they were probably going to have anyway. To justify shutting down the entire government to stop one health care non-profit, Kyle ominiously intoned, “If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that’s well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”
As every news organization on the planet immediately confirmed, in reality, only 3 percent of its services are abortion. The rest are things like birth control, Pap smears, well woman exams, STI testing, that sort of thing. But you suspect that all those things sound like nothing more than scary lady business to Jon Kyle, and therefore might as well be abortion.
4. Seriously, everything is abortion. The tendency to assume that any sexual health care besides childbirth must be abortion isn’t just a cranky old man habit on the right. Renaming any health care that isn’t making-babies “abortion” is an out-and-out political strategy that anti-choicers have been pushing for years. Anti-choice organizations have been floating the claim that an expanding number of contraception options are the equivalent of “abortion” in order to demonize them and try to restrict access. First it was just emergency contraception, which they called “abortion” on the iffy grounds that anything after you have sex must be abortion. Now the birth control pill and the IUD are also being described as “abortion.” It’s like they’re moving down a list of contraception methods and declaring them “abortion” in order of effectiveness. At this rate, condoms will be called “abortion” in conservative circles by the year 2020.
Unfortunately, the idea that preventing pregnancy is “abortion” made its way to the Supreme Court in 2014, during the arguments for Hobby Lobby v Burwell, a case where Hobby Lobby argued that it had a religious right to take contraception coverage from their employees. Justice Antonin Scalia jumped in and declared that IUDs and hormonal contraception are “abortifacients.” Hobby Lobby argued that they are because they claim to believe that they work by killing fertilized eggs. In reality, both IUDs and hormonal contraception work by preventing sperm from meeting egg.
In one small blessing, the final decision did not enshrine into the law Scalia’s idea that one is aborting a pregnancy by not getting pregnant in the first place. They did, however, say that the religious belief that contraception is abortion trumps the scientific fact in this case and sided with Hobby Lobby.
5. Creaky old jokes are better than facts. Big time Republican donor and Rick Santorum supporter Foster Friess thought he, too, would like to play doctor on TV and tell women that he knows better than they do what kind of medical care they need to control their fertility. Denying that women need contraception in 2012, Friess went on MSNBC and said, ““You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”
Besides being offensive and hackneyed, the joke didn’t even have any relationship to reality. Friess was born in 1940, meaning he came of age in the late 50s and early 60s. According to research from the Guttmacher Institute, women of his day were having premarital sex at basically the same levels they are now: Nearly 9 out of 10 women born in the 40s had premarital sex. Nor was contraception unknown in his day, as Friess would have you believe. The federal ban on birth control was lifted in 1938, before Friess was born. The first birth control pill was approved by the FDA in 1960, when Friess was 20 years old. Condoms and diaphragms were both quite popular then. In other words, in Friess’s day, women most certainly were not abstaining in large numbers. They were doing what they do now: Having sex and using birth control to do it.
6. But it’s women who don’t know enough about women’s health care to be able to make decisions about it. The reason all this Republican ignorance is so infuriating, of course, is that none of these men feel they need to know the first thing about women’s bodies, women’s lives, or women’s health care to dictate how we should live our lives or use our bodies. But one Republican candidate, Greg Brannon, really encapsulated this mentality by arguing that women seeking reproductive health care are “little girls [who] don't understand what's going on to their bodies.”
Brannon’s advice for those “little girls” is that getting married is all they need: “"When I see little girls that come here, boyfriends that do show up are my favorites. Then I can whoop on them with love. How many people have we got married over the last 20 years just by riding that boy's rear end?" Because who needs health care when you have a wedding ring?