“First of all, from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy from rape) is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
– U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, GOP nominee for U.S. Senate
Right now, Todd Akin is not particularly popular among his fellow Republicans, many of whom are rushing to condemn him and even urging him to abandon his race for the U.S. Senate. That harsh criticism is motivated in part because of honest disagreement with what he said, and in part because he has opened up an area of discussion that the Republican Party wants to avoid at all costs.
Let’s deal first with Akins’ false claim that the female body has some self-protection mechanism that allows it to fend off fertilization in cases of “legitimate rape” (see note below)*. There is no biological basis for that claim, and medical research indicates that more than 30,000 women a year become pregnant each year in this country as a result of rape. The fact that Akins believes otherwise is further proof that the reproductive rights of women should not be determined by men who have no earthly idea what they’re talking about.
Like others who have made similar claims in the past, Akins believes that abortion ought to be banned even in cases of rape and incest. In the past few years, that has become an increasingly mainstream position within the Republican Party and in the right-to-life movement. In an advisory question in the Georgia GOP primary last month, two-thirds of Republican voters backed a so-called “personhood” measure calling for government protection of “all “human life from its earliest biological beginning,” regardless of how it began. Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan is also on record in support of the personhood movement and wants to ban abortion in every case except when the life of the mother is at stake.
Mitt Romney’s position is less clear. In some settings, especially during the GOP primary, he has seemed to endorse the personhood movement, but he refused to sign a pledge to that effect. He has said repeatedly that he believes life begins at the moment of conception, but his official position is that abortion ought to be legal in cases of rape or incest.
He has also said that he believes that such matters should be left to the states if Roe v. Wade is overturned, but he has also said that if given the chance as president to sign a bill barring all abortions nationwide, “I would be delighted to sign that bill.”
Given that history of equivocation — not to mention Romney’s previous transition from a pro-choice stance — American women would be foolish to look to a President Romney as any sort of bulwark against those in his own party who would ban abortion in all circumstances other than to save the life of the mother. Even on this most basic of issues, he has no apparent core of personal belief that he isn’t willing to surrender for political gain.
– Jay Bookman
* To a degree, Akin is being slammed unfairly for an unfortunate choice of words. His term “legitimate rape” is being twisted by some into a suggestion that some forms of rape are OK, and that’s clearly not what he meant. He was trying to draw a distinction between rape and cases in which women might claim to have been raped in order to qualify for an abortion. Of course, that attempted distinction creates problems of its own, largely because it suggests that only the most brutal form of rape — inflicted at gunpoint or after a physical beating — constitutes “real” rape.