If women are such a coveted voting demographic, why are so many male politicians hell bent on offending us? Senate candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana is the latest office seeker to rankle when discussing rape, pregnancy and abortion. Mourdock's remarks on the subject didn't quite sink to idiocy of Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri, who baffled the scientifically literate by asserting that women's bodies can spontaneously block conception after "legitimate rape." Mourdock sought to make a different point but ended up mangling it all the same.
In a debate with two opponents who also oppose abortion, Mourdock attempted to explain his position that rape does not merit an exception to the ban he would enact on abortion. "Life is that gift from God," he said. "I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen." Anticipating a replay of the hullabaloo Akin kicked up weeks before, some Republicans repudiated Mourdock's gaffe, while others circled the wagons, complaining that his words were being absurdly twisted. The candidate later clarified his thoughts, noting in a press release, "God creates life, and that was my point." Sure, let's grant that Mourdock never meant to suggest that rape was endorsed by God; clearly, the "it" in his statement referred to the pregnancy. That doesn't mean that his words weren't troubling.
Note that Mourdock was advocating a specific and very intrusive public policy--a ban on abortion even in cases of rape--because each act of conception, no matter if a violent assault, is part of God's plan. Yes, it's a horrible crime. Yes, the pregnancy will likely extend and intensify the victim's suffering. But we must enshrine this martyr's burden in law because it is God's will that we do so.
Why do these men fumble so badly when discussing this most grim topic? Because they see no problem legislating a religious agenda. Usually, there's no cost in doing so and plenty to gain--until they wander into a minefield that makes their ignorance plain. These men don't understand what it's like to become pregnant from rape--what it's like for that to be a possibility--and they betray no desire to become enlightened.
Akin's distinction between "legitimate" rape and--what? pseudo-rape? -- is fairly common in the Christian anti-abortion movement. It partakes of the old superstition that a woman can't get pregnant unless she enjoyed the sex act. It's a nonsensical belief, but one that conveniently undercuts the notion that abortion, though horrible, must sometimes be permitted. (Another right-wing candidate, Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois, opined that "advances in science and technology" mean that abortions to save the life of a mother are no longer needed. That's news to the obstetrics field.) From a similar religious standpoint, Mourdock followed a more logical path. He believes that life begins at conception, and that life is the most sacred gift of the Creator; therefore, life created by violent means is just as sacred as a life conceived through wedded bliss, and that life must be protected starting at the very moment of the rape.
Even if you believe that life begins at conception, and that human zygotes, blastocysts, embryos and fetuses merit the same rights and consideration as you and me, you still might disagree with Mourdock. Most Americans do disagree, including many who accept their church's teaching that abortion is wrong.
One person's convictions, when they stem from faith, inevitably will conflict with another's. When notions of justice and compassion are brought into an issue like abortion, it only complicates the dilemma (compassion for whom, the mother or the child?).
It's fitting for candidates' religious beliefs to inform their positions on important political issues, and it's laudable when they make those beliefs known to voters.
They may discover, however, that most Americans don't want important social policy to be decided by the religious beliefs of a few. Rather than invoking God to validate their positions, or citing the pseudo-science that all too often backs up their faith, conservative politicians need to reflect.
Just what are they trying to legislate: morality, metaphysics or human rights? Just answering that question would cut through so much nonsense in these debates over abortion. And it would save a lot of male candidates from having to apologize to women voters later on.
Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. E-mail, email firstname.lastname@example.org.