Akin, Spiritual Warfare, and the Radicalization of the Anti-Choice Movement

Jamie Dean at WORLD reports this morning that GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin once spoke at an event sponsored by the anti-choice group Defenders of the Unborn, celebrating the closing of an abortion clinic.

Dean also notes the 2011 announcement of the event stated that Akin was Ruling Elder at Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church, a church in the denomination Presbyterian Church in America, whose views on abortion I explored in a post on Monday. According to the Twin Oaks website, Akin is no longer an elder, but is apparently still a member; the church pastor, the Rev. Robert Stuart, is listed as an endorser on Akin’s campaign website.

Twin Oaks, like many conservative evangelical churches, has a “Life Team Ministry,” whose “mission is to support TOPC in spreading the testimony of God’s grace in the St. Louis area and to sufficiently equip its membership so that TOPC may participate in various strategies which will end abortion.” These strategies—again, a common refrain in church-sponsored anti-choice activism—are centered on spiritual warfare. TOPC says it is guided by 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (We are guided by the Bible text from 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, ”The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”)

In rebuffing the calls of GOP leadership, including Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, to drop out of the race, Akin has racked up the support of religious right groups like the Family Research Council and anti-abortion groups like the Susan B. Anthony List. The argument goes something like this: he may have said something wrong about rape, but he’s our hero in the fight to end abortion. (Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, who seems to never tire of outdoing himself, said Akin himself is a victim of a “forcible assault.”)

Given that Romney, Ryan, and others in the GOP establishment are trying to push Akin away (Akin is now saying he won’t go to Tampa), there’s been a lot of discussion of whether Akin is more radical on abortion than the GOP can countenance. As Think Progress has reported, Akin and Ryan have been co-sponsors of several anti-abortion bills in Congress, including a “personhood” bill and one that introduced the term “forcible” rape (as opposed to the other kind) in an effort to further restrict the circumstances under which federal funds could be used to pay for an abortion.

Akin isn’t out of the mainstream for the GOP. He is the GOP, notwithstanding how some Republicans are calling him an idiot now. The GOP has pandered to the extremism of the anti-choice movement by including a plank in its platform calling for outlawing of abortion with no exceptions since 1984; why are they suddenly embarrassed by Akin? Because his remarks exposed the heart of the worldview and ideology the GOP bolsters when candidates pledge to be unequivocally “pro-life;” when they claw their way through primaries by trying to be more “pro-life” than their opponents; when they support calls for our laws to align with “biblical principles;” when they make heroes out of activists who believe they are locked in spiritual warfare with demonic forces that support abortion rights and access to contraception.

In 2003, Akin told The Pathway, a magazine published by the Missouri Baptist Convention, “If you’re an atheist, it’s much nicer to live in a good, Christian civilization where you can have plenty of freedom, because you’ll have a more prosperous, happy life. You may be going straight to hell. You may not care about God or anything else, and you may even break a lot of commandments, but if you’re an atheist you’re going to be a lot better off in a free, prosperous country than in the former Soviet Union, which was an atheist nation.” Kerry Messer, a lobbyist for the Missouri Family Network and a former roommate of Akin’s while he served in the state legislature (!), told the magazine that “Akin always saw his position as God-given.” 

That was nearly ten years ago. In the interim, Akin has accused liberals of hating God, has claimed that the “liberal agenda” of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell “has infiltrated our military, where service members and chaplains are facing recrimination for their sincerely held moral and religious beliefs,” and, according to Right Wing Watch:

claimed that the left “will snuff out the light of freedom” by “rewriting the history of America,” and warned that the health care reform law is “an unbiblical threat” that violated the Ten Commandments. Akin even believes that Medicare is unconstitutional, wants to eliminate the Departments of Education and Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, wants to impeach judges for “making decisions not based on the U.S. Constitution,” and likens student loan reform to “stage-three cancer.”

Akin said that Thanksgiving should be remembered as a day to renounce “unbiblical” socialism and that the U.S. should use the Pilgrim society as a model because the Pilgrims used the Bible as a “blueprint” for economic, educational, and government policies.

None of those statements were enough to cause the GOP to abandon him. During his presidential campaign, Rick Santorum said rape survivors who find themselves pregnant should just “accept God’s gift;” Citizens United has produced a film, narrated by Mike Huckabee, which claims that God blesses rape survivors who carry pregnancies to term. Rick Perry, whose presidential campaign imploded not because of his anti-choice beliefs, said that the story of Personhood USA spokesperson Rebecca Kiessling, who says she was conceived by rape and was featured in the Citizens United film, caused him to reject rape exceptions. No one even blinked. Akin went too far because what he said was too revealing about the theology and ideology behind these ideas that have been mainstreamed in the GOP.

What else is mainstream now? Defenders of the Unborn, at whose event Akin spoke, promotes the trope that the widespread availability of contraception has caused “an increase in abortion, pornography, divorce, sexual abuse and other problems.” The group advises followers: “You can help end the ravages of contraception by saving sex for marriage and using natural methods of family planning. These are just as accurate as artificial methods and they have many benefits that artificial contraception does not have. Examples include increased communication between spouses and the capability to detect feminine problems before they become real issues.” The group claims Planned Parenthood “target[s] youth” by “teaching YOUR children to be sexually promiscuous before marriage” (emphasis in original). The site encourages people to go to the American Life League’s anti-Planned Parenthood STOPP site for more information. 

ALL and its project STOPP (which 40 Days for Life founder David Bereit once headed) were once considered the fringe of the anti-choice movement. All that has changed as the Republican Party has taken up calls to shut down Planned Parenthood and restrict access to contraception:

Shortly after joining STOPP, Bereit blamed the Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, which ruled state bans on contraception unconstitutional, for “a tragic moral breakdown in our culture,” adding, “It is time for Americans to take a long, hard look at the real legacy of the Griswold decision. Although we can’t undo the consequences overnight, we can begin to take back our society one step at a time. The first step is to put an end to the destructive influence of Planned Parenthood, the organization that forced this tragedy upon our nation 40 years ago.”

At the Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally, Bereit told me he opposed the legal precedent that Griswold set, as it laid the groundwork for Roe v. Wade. But when I pressed him about whether he agreed with ALL’s opposition to contraception generally, he paused and said, “I still agree with the position that anything that directly causes the destruction of human life, and there is evidence suggesting that certain birth control devices can have an abortifacient property. I do have opposition to those things,” which he said included birth control pills. He, like other speakers at the rally, repeated the false charge that the emergency contraceptives ella and Plan B, which are covered by the HHS rule, are abortifacients.

In an online discussion titled “Ending Abortion,” Bereit interviewed Jim Sedlak, his former colleague and the current executive director of STOPP, calling him “the most credible expert I have ever heard on the topic of Planned Parenthood.” STOPP’s petition web page to end federal funding of Planned Parenthood charges, among other things, that Planned Parenthood’s “top goal for the next 14 years is to push its agenda of promiscuous sex everywhere in our society,” and that it pushes pornography to children, covers up for rapists and child predators, and is “openly hostile to Christianity.”

Republicans might be embarrassed by Akin now—or at least merely worried that he endangers their prospects of picking up a Senate seat in Missouri, and even the state’s electoral votes. But the party, in his quest to solidify the religious right base, has long not only tolerated, but promoted, candidates like him. Perhaps now they finally realize they should be careful what they wish for.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email