In a rare intra-party rebuke, Senator Scott Brown called on Representative Todd Akin, of Missouri, on Monday to withdraw from the US Senate race in his state, after Akin suggested that women’s bodies can somehow prevent pregnancy in cases of rape.
Brown was among the first prominent Republicans to call for Akin to end his Senate bid. In doing so, Brown jumped ahead of the issue before his opponent, Elizabeth Warren, and fellow Democrats began a concerted effort to tie him to the controversy.
It was the second time in as many weeks that Brown found himself on the defensive about a fellow Republican, illustrating the predicament Brown faces as a moderate in a party that is growing increasingly conservative.
Last week, Brown attempted to distance his policy beliefs from Paul Ryan, after the Wisconsin congressman was chosen as Mitt Romney’s running mate. Brown praised Ryan for raising important fiscal issues, but was careful to point out that he has opposed the congressman’s budget, which Democrats have attacked for its cutbacks in social programs and entitlements.
In both cases, Democrats had tried to tie Brown to the congressmen, making the argument that his own reelection would help Republicans control the national agenda.
The most recent incident came after Akin said in a Missouri television interview on Sunday that pregnancy among rape victims is “really rare,” an argument he made to buttress his opposition to legalized abortion in most cases.
“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin said. He later said he misspoke.
The comments stirred outrage and quick condemnation from both sides of the political aisle. Brown, who favors legalized abortion, released a statement early Monday on Twitter condemning the remarks. He followed it up later Monday morning with a more direct statement, calling on Akin to leave the race.
“As a husband and father of two young women, I found Todd Akin’s comments about women and rape outrageous, inappropriate and wrong,” Brown said. “There is no place in our public discourse for this type of offensive thinking. Not only should he apologize, but I believe Rep. Akin’s statement was so far out of bounds that he should resign the nomination for US Senate in Missouri.”
Warren soon issued her own press release, trying to keep pressure on Brown. She cited the senator’s support earlier this year for the Blunt Amendment, which allows employers to deny health coverage for certain procedures and drugs if they have a moral opposition to them, as well as Brown’s opposition to a measure intended to guarantee equal pay for women in the workplace.
“Akin’s comments are reprehensible,” Warren said. “I understand that Scott Brown and other Republicans want to pretend Todd Akin is an isolated individual, but he is clearly in line with the Republican agenda...Brown has been right in the middle of this.”
The Massachusetts Democratic Party later added that Brown’s political action committee had made $20,000 in contributions to four House members who cosponsored the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. The act, among other things, would redefine rape to mean “forcible rape,” which was not defined in the bill. But opponents said it would prevent victims of statutory rape and other crimes from receiving abortions paid for with federal funds. Brown’s campaign said Monday that the senator opposes the measure.
Weighing in on the controversy fits into both candidates’ strategies. Brown, hoping to reinforce his independent image, has been trying to distance himself from the conservative wing of his party on some social issues. Warren has tried to characterize Brown and other Republicans as out of touch on women’s issues. On Sunday, she kicked off “Women for Warren Week” and plans to release a report on Tuesday criticizing the Ryan budget as bad for women.
But Brown faces pressure on social issues from both sides. Monday, Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council, told reporters that Brown was “off the reservation on a number of Republican issues, conservative issues,” according to the website BuzzFeed.
“I have not seen Scott Brown’s statement, but he should be careful,” said Perkins, who was in Florida for the Republican National Committee’s platform committee discussions.
“His support among conservatives is very shallow,” he added.Noah Bierman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.