At the conclusion of a minute-long introduction that highlighted his conservative values, his voting record, and his political career, the studio lights of the Fox 2 Studio in St. Louis, Missouri fixed on current-congressman and senate-hopeful Todd Akins. As he exploded all over national headlines with his now infamous gaffe (read: moment of unintended honesty) about how the “female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down” (meaning pregnancies resulting from “legitimate” rape), America found herself in the midst of a new top shelf icon to stare at with jaws dropped and nostrils flaring.
The rush to anoint Akin as everything wrong with politics had begun.
The Republican establishment, from Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to Sean Hannity and Anne Coulter, prepped the wayward candidate’s curtain for its inevitable final call.
They were left at the altar.
Akin remains in the race, despite all major funding being withdrawn from his campaign. He allowed the Tuesday deadline – his last chance to voluntarily drop out – to elapse. Now, he would be forced to obtain a court order from a judge permitting his withdrawal.
Appearing on Dana Loesch’s radio talk show, he said: “We can’t run from our shadows.”
He’s right. Except, where are the shadows? Todd Akins was caught on camera inarticulately speaking frankly about an ideology being mainstreamed and implemented through Republican legislation. He is reflective of a party problem; he is not an outlier.
GOP leadership quickly, and smartly, tried to put him in a corner. It was a smart tactical move, but it assumed that Akin was saying something that contradicted his GOP peers in elected office. He was not.
Akin did a naked-triple-axle-stupid-flop, landing squarely on the front pages and opening cable segments across every corner of the national media. But where does his policy differ from that of his colleagues?
Mike Huckabee, Tony Perkins, and other A-List conservatives have taken up defending him. A noticeable chunk of Republican big shots have his back. Most notably, people not in charge of winning elections. Those susceptible to the voting public are running away, screaming.
In Alaska, Senator Lisa Murkowski wasted no time before objecting to the Missouri candidate, saying: “I join many Alaskans in finding Rep. Todd Akin’s comments incredibly offensive and I strongly encourage him to step aside.”
Sometimes it seems like a press release is as close to a personal relationship folks in DC ever get with each other. Missouri is a long way from Alaska. And the House is quite a few miles of perceived self importance south of the Senate. So, as far as political capital expenditures go, shock and outrage are appropriate menu items for Murkowski.
But what about at home in Alaska? Todd Akins doesn’t live here, but his views definitely have taken up residence. How different is Akin when compared to a sampling of lawmakers in Juneau – or to those who are campaigning to join their ranks? Is Senator Murkowski aware that one tiny verbal explosion, which she would like to quarantine in Missouri, is endemic among leaders in her own state – permeating the halls of the state legislature she used to call home?
On January 17 of this year, the Alaska State Senate gaveled in. Within the first hour of business, Senator Fred Dyson (R-Eagle River) referred to abortion as “America’s Holocaust.” The comment was part of a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Less than a month later, Senators Coghill, Huggins, Dyson, Giessel, and Olson introduced SB 363 – “An Act requiring an ultrasound before an abortion.”
It doesn’t appear that the Alaska trans-vaginal ultrasound bill was ever expected to go anywhere. Neither of the committees that it was referred to (Health and Social Services and Judiciary) bothered to bring it to a vote, and none of the sponsors pushed the issue. It was filed, at the taxpayers’ expense, to solicit campaign contributions and endorsements, and take up time better spent on other things that the legislature should probably hash out.
But the bill didn’t drift into obscurity before Rep. Alan Dick (R-Cantwell) piped in.
“[Rep. Alan Dick] said in a House Health and Social Services Committee Hearing last week that he doesn’t believe that when a woman is pregnant, it’s really “her pregnancy.” As a matter of fact, he would advocate for criminalizing women who have an abortion without the permission via written signature from the man who impregnated her. He stated, “If I thought that the man’s signature was required… required, in order for a woman to have an abortion, I’d have a little more peace about it…” He didn’t say whether a rapist would be able to send his signature by fax from prison, or not. But he’ll have “peace” and women will require a permission slip for their own bodies.
It should be mentioned that Alaska is one of 31 states where “men who father through rape are able to assert the same custody and visitation rights to their children that other fathers enjoy.”
One month later, a second abortion-related bill surfaced. HB 363: “An Act prohibiting the use of public funds for abortion.” The bill was sponsored by the Rep. Wes Keller (R-Wasilla), and sought to outlaw funding for abortion through Medicaid. When it was brought to the floor of the House committee on Health and Social Services, Rep. Beth Kerttula challenged the intent of the bill.
Rep. Kerttula: What happens if I’m a wealthy woman and I would like to have an abortion? I mean, can I just go out and pay for it then, if this bill passes? Would you restrict that right? No state funding?
Keller: No, this bill is about Medicaid abortions and it does not restrict anybody’s right to pay for an abortion.
Kerttula: So then you’re allowing one group of women to have a choice, but not another.
Abortions, in other words, are totally legit, so long as you can pay for it yourself.
Keller’s staffer Jim Pound elaborated in a way that deserved the same spotlight afforded to Akin, but escaped by way of a lack of anyone paying attention:
“In fact, our Medicaid program does not pay for oral contraceptives. So, therefore, an elective abortion is essentially a form of contraceptive.”
Rep. Kertulla fired back: “No one uses abortion as a contraceptive time after time again in Alaska. That’s not something women like to do…. To analogize it to contraception, I think, is really wrong.”
Jim Pound doubled down. “I believe it is quite often used as a form of contraception.”
Women use abortion like they use the pill. Has that been your experience? Anyone? No. Because that is insane. If you believe that, it is because you have made it up inside your own head. Stop making things up inside your own head. It’s not helping anyone. You’re empowering crazy. And that crazy is the staffer for the Chair of the House Health and Social Services committee.
The state legislature closed shop in dramatic fashion during a special session. But the abortion conversation has not stopped.
Governor Sean Parnell has proposed changes to the Dept. of Health and Social Services. Public comment on those changes ended on July 30. His proposal would require physicians, who are treating a patient undergoing the termination of a pregnancy, to check a box certifying that the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest and – in either case – mandate that the procedure now be included in the patient’s medical record. Or, the doctor must specify that the operation was a medical emergency and not an elective procedure.
Because paperwork has, and should always be, the doctor’s main concern.
And last week, the issue hit the campaign trail. 59 of the 60 seats that comprise our state legislature are up for grabs, and Akin’s Achilles’ Heel has proven to be a great source of attention and revenue in our state politics.
Jim Minnery, of the Alaska Family Council, released his “Alaska Family Action’s Value Voter Guide;” a candidate survey, for those planning on casting a vote in Tuesday’s primary.
The Survey included five legislative candidates who thought abortion should be illegal in all cases: Kim Skipper, David Eastman, Ralph Seekins, Mike Dunleavy, and Bob Bell. Ten more candidates, Paul D. Brown, Aaron N. Lojewski, Wes Keller, Shelley Hughes, Lynn Gattis, Bill Stoltze, Roman Romanovski, Jimmy Crawford, Larry D. Wood, and Click Bishop, thought that abortion should be illegal in cases of rape and incest – tolerable only when saving the life of the mother.
Candidate Lynnette Bergh offered specificity in her answer: “The family should decide on what to do if both mother and child cannot be saved.” Bergh advocates for a “death panel” wherein the doctor presents a family with the following decision: “Who gets to live? Mother or child? Judges, let’s put thirty seconds on the clock.”
There were no questions about how we can improve the lives of the mothers who were victims of rape and incest. Twelve questions on the survey – five about abortion, zero about prevention and support for victims.
We’ve just covered a grand total of eight months worth of abortion-related discourse in Alaska politics, framed by a national discussion about some dipshit who bothered to speak for the folks the media didn’t bother to cover.
Todd Akin is not a witch. He’s you.
Sadly, he’s reflective of the people we keep electing.
You can’t treat a man engulfed in flames by amputating his pinky. Akins is a public relations problem, but shutting him up doesn’t solve the larger issue that is upending laws from every corner of the United States – not only telling women what they can do with their own bodies, but going so far as to instruct them how it happens, how they should feel, how they should react, and what guy should sign off on it. There is an infection within the GOP. Candidates are running campaigns on bumper sticker slogans celebrating liberty and freedom, while writing bills that take both away from our mothers, sisters, daughters. They’re pointing to one stain, hellbent on achieving notoriety, and casting him off as the alpha and omega of the infection rotting the core of the Republican Party.
Todd Akin is a scape goat; a target of animosity aimed at obfuscating an important topic of discussion. A loathsomely backwater scape goat who, for whatever reason, decided to say on camera what many officials we send to Juneau think. But we keep failing to make the connection. We see a cartoon character who, all of a sudden, has been jettisoned into a national spotlight and is subject to a whole lot of questions and scrutiny, and is fumbling magnificently.
Seems like we’ve learned this lesson before.