Is Akin really out of the Republican mainstream?

Our view: Missouri candidate's highly offensive remarks regarding 'legitimate' rape expose serious political vulnerability for the GOP

August 21, 2012

Missouri is a long way from Maryland, so residents can be forgiven for never having heard of Rep. Todd Akin prior to this week. But when the socially conservative Republican Senate candidate suggested that the victims of "legitimate rape" rarely get pregnant, he put himself on the map from Annapolis to Alaska — and launched a political uproar.

Mr. Akin's remark was idiotic for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that it's nonsensical. His notion that the "female body has ways to shut the whole thing down" is not true — at least if one goes by what doctors and scientists have to say on the subject and not ill-informed men from Missouri. Indeed, some medical studies have found the prospects of pregnancy from rape are actually higher than from consensual sex.

But it was worse than just saying something stupid or embarrassing. It reflected a skepticism toward rape that is nothing short of misogynistic. Legitimate rape? What is that? Rape is rape, whether the non-consensual sex is done at gun-point by a total stranger or, as is more common, by someone the victim knows.

Mr. Akin apologized and said he misspoke, but one has to wonder how such a bizarre thought ever entered a person's head. Was he apologetic because he doesn't believe what he said or because so many are offended by it? It was interesting to note that his apology included an affirmation of his anti-abortion agenda, saying he believes "deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action."

While the Senate race in Missouri could prove critical to the balance of power in that chamber — Senator Claire McCaskill was widely regarded as the Senate's most endangered Democratic incumbent — the remark has touched off a political firestorm far beyond the customary for idiotic remarks made by candidates for the U.S. Senate, Democratic or Republican.

That's because it has once again shown that some members of the GOP are not only insensitive to women but downright hostile toward them. And party leaders clearly know it because some of the loudest condemnations have come from fellow Republicans. It seemingly took only a matter of nanoseconds for the National Republican Senatorial Committee to announce the organization was withdrawing support for Mr. Akin to the tune of at least $5 million. When Karl Rove's American Crossroads super PAC pulls its support, as happened a day later, you know something's up.

But here's the problem. Mitt Romney may have called the Akin quote insulting and inexcusable, but how far is it really straying from GOP doctrine on women's issues, particularly when it comes to their reproductive rights? Rep. Paul Ryan, Mr. Romney's choice as running mate, was co-sponsor of a bill that proudly used the term "forcible rape" in limiting the exceptions to the rule against federal funding for abortions. "Legitimate rape" and "forcible rape" sound pretty closely related, and both seem suspiciously like they must have been coined by people who believe women are prone to lying about being violated in the most humiliating way possible.

Meanwhile, Republicans have been busily approving limits on abortion rights state-by-state whenever an opening presents itself. Recently, the House approved a ban on abortion at 20 weeks in the District of Columbia that would have included victims of rape and incest. And just this week in Tampa, the party's platform committee approved a plank calling for a Constitutional amendment banning all abortions with no exception for rape and incest mentioned.

So what exactly are Mr. Romney and party leaders unhappy about — that one of their own used indelicate terminology or junk science? Sorry, but the party's positions on women's reproductive rights and the rights of rape victims are fair game even if they make Republicans look like a bunch of Neanderthals (no offense to cavemen, by the way).

Democrats are understandably delighted by the chance to change the subject from the economy to women's reproductive health. President Barack Obama's observation Monday that the comments underscore "why we shouldn't have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women" was right on point.

Why the GOP wants to offend more than half of registered voters and prove itself soft on violent crime to boot is beyond understanding. But such is the path that a party captured by anti-abortion extremists has chosen to take.

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