No sooner had Missouri congressman Todd Akin revealed his curious theories on rape and reproduction than I started getting calls, texts, and e-mails from readers offering insights along the lines of: what a fucking dumbass!
Not that I necessarily disagree, but it got me wondering—just how different are our esteemed legislators? After all, we live in a blue city in one of the bluest states in the union—a place where voters in 2010 decided they'd rather their governor be a weak pro-choice Democrat who served under Rod Blagojevich than a Republican with a record of opposing reproductive rights and abortion.
After reviewing the legislative history and recent debates over these issues, I'm happy to report that our politicians are way more sophisticated than those rubes in the Show Me State.
That is to say, we don't have any politicians who contend that vaginas are equipped with high-tech weaponry that zaps invading rape sperm, which essentially sums up Akin's understanding of women's health.
On the larger matter of abortion, however, the Land of Lincoln has quite a few elected officials who see eye to eye with Akin.
Several share his belief that abortion should be banned even in instances of rape and incest, according to a survey by Illinois Citizens for Life, an antiabortion group. That list includes three Chicago-area congressmen—Dan Lipinski, Peter Roskam, and Joe Walsh—and state rep Michael McAuliffe from the northwest side.
All are Republicans except for Lipinski, who inherited his seat when his father, Democratic Party powerhouse Bill Lipinski, suddenly retired after winning the primary in 2004. Papa Lipinski used his clout to have his son—then a professor in Tennessee—replace him on the ballot. And Dan Lipinski's been walloping the hapless opposition ever since.
I suspect he'll continue to wallop the opposition for years to come. Not just because constituents in his socially conservative district agree with his rigidly antiabortion views, but because Chicagoans seem physiologically incapable of voting against incumbents—a condition afflicting voters across the state and regardless of ideology.
In 2011 Lipinski, Roskam, and Kankakee-area congressman Adam Kinzinger teamed up with Akin and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan to propose "The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." Initially, the bill would have restricted the exemption for rape so that only abortions following "forcible rape" would be eligible for Medicaid funding.
They never got that far because of opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate. But look for the bill to be revived should the Republicans retain the House, seize the Senate, and send the Romney/Ryan ticket to the White House.
For its part, the Illinois General Assembly has been mercifully quiet on the whole rape/reproduction thing. If they fight over abortion law, it's generally over attempts to make the procedure unavailable through overregulation.
That's what happened in March when state rep Joe Lyons, a Democrat from the northwest side, introduced the "Ultrasound Opportunity Act." Lyons's proposal required doctors to offer ultrasounds to women seeking abortions. The idea is that if women see an image of the fetus, they won't go through with the abortion. Or, as Lyons put it in debate, they'll realize "it's not a procedure like getting your tonsils out."
Because no one knew that already.
Women who opted not to have an ultrasound were required to fill out a form that would be filed with the state health department. As expected, Lyons's proposal generated strong opposition from doctors, civil libertarians, and women—lots and lots of women.
Once on the floor, he ran into a roadblock from several fellow Democrats, including Kelly Cassidy, who represents Edgewater and Rogers Park. Applying the old principle that what's good for the goose is good for the gander, Cassidy proposed an amendment that required men seeking erectile-dysfunction pills to sign and submit a form acknowledging that such pills have side effects including priapism.
Priapism is the condition where the penis remains erect for several hours. And I thought tax increment financing was tough to explain.
Cassidy's amendment also required doctors to offer men the opportunity to watch a graphic video that shows a common treatment for priapism, which, as I understand, involves lancing. Hey, you've got to get the blood out somehow.
Eventually, Cassidy's proposal went before the full house, where it was defeated by a vote of 32 to 68. Not surprisingly, most of the men in the house voted against it.
But Lyons had to retreat because he didn't have the votes to pass his ultrasound measure.
Finally, there's the hubbub over the sex-education bill, which proposes to amend the state's sex-education laws so that the stuff teachers teach about sex, pregnancy, and AIDS prevention is "medically accurate."
As opposed to the medically inaccurate stuff you hear from, oh, Congressman Akin.
I must confess that until doing my research, I didn't know the state had a sex-education code. But it's there—stipulating, among other things, that "all sex education classes that discuss sexual intercourse" must include "course material and instruction" that "teach honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage."
Like one has anything to do with the other.
The law also requires that students be taught "it is unlawful for males to have sexual relations with females under the age of 18 to whom they are not married pursuant to Article 12 of the Criminal Code of 1961."
The theory here being that nothing puts a damper on teenage horniness like good old Article 12 of the Criminal Code.
The sex-ed bill was sponsored by north-side state senator Heather Steans, who's also known as the senate's champion of charter schools. So it's good to see that we agree on something, Senator Steans.
Despite strong resistance from conservative groups, the bill squeaked through the senate by a vote of 30 to 28. But it's languishing in the house because there aren't enough votes to get it approved.
There's a good chance that its house sponsor, west-side state rep Camille Lilly, will bring it up in January, in the postelection session that will feature plenty of lame ducks—including Rep. Lyons, who decided not to run for reelection.
As a swan song, Lyons might bring back his ultrasound bill, if only to get back at Cassidy for having outfoxed him in the first go-round. Apparently, in politics as in sports, there are few things more embarrassing for a boy than losing to a girl.