Comments by Congressman Todd Akin, left, have reinforced an existing narrative by Democrats about a Republican “war on women.”

The GOP’s Todd Akin problem

August 24, 2012

One of the charges made by both parties in this election cycle is that the other party is engaging in a “war on women.”

Democrats argue that Republicans are waging a war on women by attempting to restrict abortion rights, trying to limit access to birth control and opposing fair pay legislation. Republicans argue that the Democratic failure on economic issues constitute the “real” war on women.

With the entry of Paul Ryan into the race, the hot issue became Ryan’s positions on Medicare and Social Security and whether these were programs worth saving. Congressman Todd Akin, who represents most of St. Louis’ suburbs (meaning that for many readers, he’s your congressman), has refocused the national debate on the Republican “war on women.”

Akin articulated his opposition to abortion, including cases of rape, by stating, “First of all, from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy caused by rape), that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Akin sparked a national outcry as nearly every major politician called for him to resign from the race to be Missouri’s next senator. Despite these calls, Akin remains the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri.

First let’s put aside the ridiculous idea that rape doesn’t cause pregnancy. In the face of overwhelming medical evidence, even Todd Akin himself admitted Tuesday that rape causes pregnancy (about five percent of rapes result in pregnancy). Never mind that President George W. Bush nominated a federal judge (confirmed by Republicans) who agrees with Akin’s statement and that this isn’t the first Republican Senate nominee to make the claim that violent rape doesn’t cause pregnancy. Fay Boozman said this in 1998 and was later appointed head of the Arkansas Health Department by Mike Huckabee, a man who has been a champion of Todd Akin’s candidacy and a defender of his since this controversy began.

Akin has since articulated that when he said “legitimate” rape, he meant “forcible” rape. This explanation doesn’t help Akin nor does it help the Republican party, whose vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan co-sponsored legislation with Akin restricting the use of taxpayer money for abortions to those pregnancies caused by “forcible rape.” This excludes the rape of minors, date rape or rapes not resulting in injuries to the victim. Apparently these don’t meet the definition of “legitimate” rape. By the way, in a recent poll, only 15 percent of Americans agreed with the policy of no exceptions for rape victims in abortion laws.

Eighty percent of rapes are perpetrated by acquaintances, which includes date rape. Date rape is a significant issue for college students, and the FBI recently expanded it’s legal definition of rape to include “instances in which the victim is incapable of giving consent because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity, including due to the influence of drugs or alcohol or because of age.” Date rape and statutory rape wouldn’t be “legitimate” under the previous FBI definition, the one used in the legislation sponsored by Paul Ryan.

The controversy has forced Mitt Romney to issue a statement clarifying that a Romney administration would be in favor of abortions for rape victims. There is a problem, however: the national Republican party platform, set to be adopted next week at its convention, is at odds with Romney’s stance. The platform leaves no exceptions for abortions when pregnancies are caused by rape, outlawing them entirely whether the rape was “legitimate” or not. Romney may agree with 85 percent of America, but not his own party or vice presidential candidate.

The Chairman of the Republican National Committee correctly noted Monday that not all women are pro-abortion rights and abortion isn’t the only issue they care about. But if Republicans believe that not all rapes are legitimate, appoint men like Todd Akin to the House Science Committee, choose Paul Ryan as their vice presidential nominee, and disagree with 85 percent of America on abortion rights, then they have to seriously look at the message they are presenting to and about women.

Photo: Capt. James J. Housinger, commanding officer of the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay, explains the command information center to U.S. Congressman Todd Akin during a shipboard tour.

(Photo credit: Elena Pence, US Navy)

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared as an opinion column in The Maneater on August 24, 2012.

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