The XX Factor

Todd Akin Doubles Down on Claim That Women Who Aren’t Pregnant Get Abortions

Todd Akin agrees with his earlier self’s position that non-pregnant women are getting abortions.

Photo by Whitney Curtis/Getty Images

Todd Akin’s campaign has responded to my story from earlier this week that revealed, among other things, that Akin believes that abortion providers trick women who aren’t pregnant into getting abortions for profit. Unlike with his “legitimate rape” comments, however, this time Akin is doubling down, claiming that this is a common practice. 

In defense of his assertion, Akin’s campaign released a statement Tuesday from Abby Johnson, a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas who quit in 2009 and now speaks against abortion. 

“I can attest that when I served as director of Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas, we often scared women into getting services they did not need including abortion so we could collect the fees. This included women who were not pregnant and women who were in the process of miscarrying,” Johnson said in the written statement.

Abby Johnson is an interesting character in the anti-choice movement. A former clinic director for Planned Parenthood, Johnson has crossed over to the anti-choice side and makes a living telling Christian conservatives that the non-profit bamboozles women into getting abortions to increase profit margins. Nate Blakeslee of Texas Monthly looked into Johnson’s conversion story in 2010 and not only caught Johnson in direct lies, but also found substantial evidence to demonstrate that she was about to be fired for incompetence just before switching sides. Among the lies was Johnson’s claim that a for-profit group performs abortions for Planned Parenthood. In fact, all services at Planned Parenthood are non-profit, but admitting this would destroy anti-choice claims that abortion is an “industry.”

Part of the problem here is that, within the conservative evangelical circles that are the backbone of the anti-choice movement, “truth” is not the truth, but simply “stories that dramatically illustrate the rightness of our belief system.” So while, for instance, Blakeslee can point out that there were no abortions performed on the day that Johnson claims she saw a fetus trying to escape the abortion tools on an ultrasound—a scene she loves to describe for her rapt audiences—the literal truth of her story matters less than that it reaffirm her club’s belief that fetuses are cognizant beings, gifted with more awareness than their bimbo mothers (or in Akin’s words: “climate control”) of what abortion actually means.

Religion writer Fred Clark explained the phenomenon in a classic 2008 blog post, in which he describes a similar situation regarding the ‘80s-era stalwart Christian right belief that the company Proctor & Gamble was run by Satanists. He explained that people who pass these stories along know, on some level, that they aren’t literally true. 

This is why the rumor doesn’t really need to be plausible or believable. It isn’t intended to deceive others. It’s intended to invite others to participate with you in deception.

Are you afraid you might be a coward? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel brave. Are you afraid that your life is meaningless? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend your life has purpose. Are you afraid you’re mired in mediocrity? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel exceptional. Are you worried that you won’t be able to forget that you’re just pretending and that all those good feelings will thus seem hollow and empty? Join us and we will pretend it’s true for you if you will pretend it’s true for us. We need each other.

Believing in this fantasy of an “abortion industry,” in which shadowy monsters delight in killing babies and duping women into having procedures they don’t need, provides emotional rewards that far outstrip the boring old truth. The problem is that these kinds of urban legends become the fuel that drives ideologues into the secular world of politics.