Even as Mitt Romney worked to clean up the mess left by Todd Akin, GOP activists made sure that his ludicrous comments about rape would continue to hound the Republican presidential ticket. Last week, those activists endorsed extreme language on abortion — indicating no exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s life — in the Republican Party’s platform.
For several days, high-profile Republicans, led off by Romney himself, have been at pains to denounce Akin’s remarks and urge him to drop out of the race against U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat. Akin set off a firestorm with profoundly ignorant comments about rape and reproduction in a television interview; he has seemed taken aback by the reaction and engaged in a round of apologies, hoping public penance will salvage his campaign.
However, the congressman is not in trouble with party mandarins because of what he believes but rather for the way he expressed it. He is not as adept at evasion and duplicity as the more camera-ready Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee. But make no mistake about it: They share the same rigid, antediluvian views on women’s reproductive rights.
The GOP’s party platform calls for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, asserting that “an unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” It mentions no rights for women who are raped or with severe medical conditions exacerbated by a pregnancy.
That position echoes the views of some of the Republican Party’s most prominent members, including Ryan. (The vice presidential nominee has said he endorses abortion in cases where the mother’s life is threatened, but not in cases of rape or incest.) He and Akin proudly co-sponsored the “Sanctity of Human Life Act,” which defines life as beginning at conception. Many legal analysts have said such a law, if it passed, would outlaw all abortions.
Akin and Ryan also co-sponsored a bill that suggested that not all cases of rape were “legitimate,” to use Akin’s incendiary rhetoric. That piece of legislation would have rewritten current law so that only victims of “forcible” rape could use federal funds for their abortions. It passed only after that language was removed, so its sponsors were not forced to define “forcible.” Still, it surely sounded as though they would have discounted cases in which, say, a 13-year-old was seduced by her 24-year-old schoolteacher.
So why should Akin be forced to drop his campaign when his views line up with those of the party’s rising young star? Romney may be able to distance himself from Akin, but he chose Ryan as his No. 2.
I first heard the foolish idea that women don’t get pregnant from rape back in 2003, when a member of the Georgia Legislature — a family physician, incredibly — made the claim while arguing for an anti-abortion bill, since passed, that requires physicians to tell women seeking abortion about medical risks.
“Relying on my personal experience in my home county of 90,000 people, we don’t have rape cases resulting in pregnancy,” said Don Thomas, who has since retired from the legislature. Rape victims don’t have the appropriate “vaginal secretions” to aid fertilization, he said.
The theory seems to have come from the fevered mind of former National Right to Life Committee president John Willke, also a family physician, who declared in an article in 1999: “There’s no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape. This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy.”
Willke is quite wrong. Gynecological experts estimate that about 32,000 women are impregnated every year as a result of rape. Still, his views have moved from the fringes to the mainstream of the Republican Party. During his 2008 presidential bid, Romney said he was “proud” to have Willke’s support.
National political conventions have become heavily stage-managed affairs, so you’re unlikely to see much emphasis on the party’s abortion plank at next week’s Republican gathering. But the frantic moves to get Akin out of the public spotlight don’t hide the truth about the GOP’s growing hostility to women’s rights.
(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File