Two weeks ago, Missouri’s Todd Akin took a big step in his quest to go from the U.S. House to the U.S. Senate by winning the state’s Republican primary for the seat. Instead of moving toward unseating incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, however, Akin may have taken an even larger step back this weekend with his remarks about rape and abortion during an interview with a St. Louis TV station:
First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s 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.
From his bizarre distinction between “legitimate rape” and, well, I’m not sure what (maybe Whoopi Goldberg could help him out with that?) to his crackpot notion that the female body “has ways to try to shut [pregnancy by forcible rape] down,” Akin has created a hot, offensive mess. There are calls from conservative commentators and at least two Republican senators (Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin) for Akin to drop out of the race and let someone else fight the general election against McCaskill.
Whatever becomes of Akin’s candidacy — he indicated in an interview this afternoon on Mike Huckabee’s radio show that he doesn’t plan to quit the race — I really hope the backers of the so-called personhood amendment have been watching.
Akin might have found the most offensive, least intelligent way of stating opposition to one of the three most common exceptions that many pro-life people would make for abortions (the other two being incest and a threat to the life of the mother). The problem with the personhood approach, which would eliminate at least the rape and incest exceptions, is that there really isn’t a way to put it that persuades most Americans.
Gallup has perhaps the longest record of tracking public opinion about abortion. While the trend over the past couple of decades is clearly in an anti-abortion direction, one consistency is that the position with the most adherents — by far — is for abortion to be “legal only in a few circumstances.” That’s “a few,” not “one” or “none.”
Add the “few circumstances” group to the “no circumstances” tally, and three in five Americans support much stricter regulation of abortion than has been in place since Roe v. Wade. But only one in five supports making it completely illegal.
There is a certain inconsistency to the personhood approach: Why make it OK to take a life in certain circumstances, but not others. Life is life, right?
It’s far from clear, however, that consistency is the top priority for Americans on this issue. It’s more likely the case that Americans want to strike a balance among the sometimes-competing interests of protecting the innocent, personal responsibility and personal liberty.
My guess is the rape exception remains an imperative for most people because a woman doesn’t choose to be raped and cannot possibly be deemed responsible for that action or a resulting pregnancy. However pro-choice and anti-abortion people differ about the question of responsibility in other cases, this one seems beyond debate.
That’s probably a big reason personhood failed in statewide referendums in Colorado and Mississippi. It’s a big reason I’m convinced, despite its showing in a non-binding vote on last month’s Georgia Republican primary ballots, it would fail in Georgia if there were a statewide vote for a personhood amendment to the state constitution.
The vast majority of elective abortions in this country have nothing to do with rape or incest. Right-to-life groups — and aspiring politicians — should focus on those.
– By Kyle Wingfield