As we get further away from Missouri Congressman Todd Akin's comments about "legitimate rape," the political reporters at various Gannett publications seem to have settled on an almost completely nonsensical interpretation of these comments. The way it looks to me, this misinterpretation is leading them to incorrectly report on the Joe Carr story.
“Okay, so if an abortion can be considered in the case of, say, tubal pregnancy or something like that, what about in the case of rape? Should it be legal or not?”
Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.):
“Well, you know, uh, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, ‘Well, how do you — how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question.’
“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.
“But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
It's the second paragraph that's crucial. It seems obvious to me that Akin is saying "It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, [getting pregnant from rape]'s really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down [in other words: to prevent a pregnancy from occurring].
I'm not alone in this interpretation. In Sam Stockard's piece in the Daily News Journal, in which Joe Carr attempts to explain himself, he says, “I understand there is a body of scientific evidence out there that suggests that a woman who has been violently raped has some biological mechanism that may inhibit her ability to conceive.”
But it's exactly in that DNJ story that you can see the problem the Gannett reporters are causing. Right before Carr says that he agrees with Akin, Stockard writes "He denied saying that on Tuesday." This causes any close reader a moment of confusion, until you look at what the Gannett reporters believe Akin said:
Stockard, from that same story:
Carr, who is a delegate at the convention, was summarized Tuesday in a publication called the Memphis Flyer as saying that he agreed with Akin that women are capable of terminating pregnancies after being raped.
Now look at these two stories from The Tennessean by Chas Sisk. In the first one, about Republican strategist Frank Luntz, Sisk writes:
Luntz said comments like those made earlier this month by Todd Akin, the Republican congressman from Missouri and Senate candidate, undermine the party’s efforts to win over women. Akin said that victims of “legitimate rape” seldom bring pregnancies to term, a medical fiction sometimes circulated by pro-life advocates.
In the second one, dealing specifically with Carr, Sisk writes again:
State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, denied telling a reporter that he agreed with U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s theory that victims of “legitimate rape” seldom carry pregnancies to term, but he stood by his position that Akin should not be pressured to leave the Missouri Senate race.
The Memphis Flyer reported Tuesday that Carr told its correspondent to the Republican National Convention that he believes pregnancies terminate automatically after a rape, a medical fiction sometimes advanced by opponents of abortion.
This is not what Jackson Baker said in The Memphis Flyer, though. He reported, "Carr would explain later on that he agreed with Akin that women did indeed possess certain biological means to close themselves off against pregnancy in cases of violent rape." (If there's any doubt, Baker goes into the exchange in more detail here.)
So, Gannett's inability to understand what Akin is saying is causing them to get the nuance of the story wrong, and to continue to write this story as if there's actually some disagreement between what Carr believes and what Baker says Carr believes. That's annoying.
But it's also such a strange misreading of the pro-life position that it makes me wonder if anti-abortion advocates can get their stories covered fairly or accurately by Gannett — and I think we all know that I'm not normally very concerned about whether those jerks are getting a fair shake.
But this is an important point. Well, let me start by stating a fact so that we can get it out of the way: There is no way to wish away a pregnancy. There's no mechanism in women that allows us to decide we don't want to be pregnant so, tada!, we aren't.
But if there were, it would not be OK with anti-abortion advocates like Akin. There is no "I'm anti-abortion even when it comes to rape, except if you use magic" exception. In fact, I think we can gather that Christian anti-abortion advocates would be doubly appalled by the idea of using witchcraft to end a pregnancy.
If anti-abortion advocates believed women could just wish pregnancies away, they would spend a whole lot of time begging or cajoling women into not doing that. They already are advocating for laws that get the police to investigate unintentional miscarriages. If there were such a thing as an intentional miscarriage, a guy like Akin would be apoplectic over women choosing that option — because he's anti-abortion.
It seems to me that Gannett's failure to understand this about Akin's position is not just damaging its ability to properly cover the Joe Carr story, but really calls into question whether they understand the nuances of the abortion argument at all.