Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin thinks that, as a scientific matter, Jenni Maas shouldn't exist. Mitt Romney thinks that, as a legal matter, Jenni didn't have the same right to exist as the rest of us do. Many others seem to think her mother should be ashamed that Jenni exists at all.
Jenni was conceived when her mother was raped by a boyfriend as a teenager. She is a human reminder of an uncomfortable truth denied and minimized by people on all sides of the abortion issue: Rape can result in pregnancy, which means it can create innocent babies.
"A lot of people like to sweep it under the carpet," Jenni told me Wednesday. But, if commonly cited statistics are correct, hundreds of thousands of Americans walking around today were conceived in an act of rape. Jenni, and legions like her, raise a tough question for pro-lifers who don't want to talk about rape cases. Her smiling face and growing family -- she has three kids of her own -- is also damning to pro-choice people who argue that abortion is a necessity for a woman impregnated by rape.
"Most people think, 'these women must hate the child,' " attorney and activist Shauna Prewitt told me Wednesday.
Prewitt knows firsthand how off-base these assumptions can be. She was raped eight years ago, and her daughter, now in second grade, was conceived in that rape.
"When someone like me ... says, 'I actually love this child. I actually see her as an extension of me,' people view me suspiciously. They don't see me as a legitimate rape victim."
One consequence of this mindset in Prewitt's opinion: Most states lack laws explicitly denying the rapist-father's potential custody rights. Prewitt attributes this to denial -- both by the likes of Akin and by those who can't conceive of a rape victim wanting to raise her child.
Prewitt, who does not want to outlaw abortion, wrote in the Georgetown Law Journal that pro-choice politicians "[depict] the unborn child as being solely an extension of the rapist father."
Congresswoman Nita Lowey, for instance, called children conceived by rape the "rapist's child." Prewitt writes that this "[describes] the unborn children in terms that suggest the children are exclusively extensions of the rapist fathers ..." Such phrasing is common. From demonizing the baby, it's a short step to dehumanizing the baby. Prewitt quotes another congresswoman describing the child merely as the "product of such violent, vicious and terrible act."
But those "products" have names and faces. And lives.
Kristi Hofferber's mother was raped by her own father -- Kristi's grandfather. The first time Kristi's mother got pregnant as a child, her father beat her, killing the child in utero. He impregnated her five more times. Four pregnancies ended in abortion, Kristi tells.
One pregnancy ended in a live birth to a sick child, left in the hospital in the custody of authorities -- that was Kristi. Kristi was adopted, and as an adult learned her birth mother's identity and the circumstances of her conception. She decided to find her birth mother anyway.
"I was unsure how her reaction would be," Kristi told me over the phone. "But my coming back into her life brought closure for her."
Kristi's mother had been told to abort her. Jenni Maas' mother got the same advice. Like Shauna Prewitt, Jenni's mother raised her.
Jenni says her mother tells her that "it was a horrible thing that happened, but this was a little light in her life." A daughter to raise "gave her incentive to recover." Aborting Jenni "would have been just another trauma," her mother says.
After Akin's comments, the Republican ticket proclaimed: "A Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape."
Kristi doesn't accept this stance. "It's important to realize that the child is punished for the sins of the father" when a child is aborted, because she was conceived by rape. "The child is innocent by all means."
The rape-and-incest exception has an emotional appeal, and it's hard to argue against it. "It usually takes seeing a person," Jenni told me. "Just looking at a person" conceived by this horrific act, "and thinking, 'what makes this person any different from any other?' "
Akin's comments were atrocious not only because they belittled rape victims, but also because they pretended that Jenni and Kristi -- and Shauna Prewitt's daughter -- do not exist or are insignificant. Anyone with two eyes can see these people do exist, and many get a chance to grow up to become adults. It's hard to tell them they shouldn't have that chance.
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.