The Republican platform committee approved language on Tuesday seeking a constitutional amendment that would ban abortions with no exceptions for rape, incest, or danger to the life of a pregnant woman, a position Democrats quickly labeled the “Akin Plank,” after embattled Representative Todd Akin of Missouri.
The wording of the GOP’s call for a “human life amendment” is no different from what the party approved in 2004 and 2008, but proponents and opponents alike greeted it with renewed zeal two days after Akin said he “understand[s] from doctors” that rape-induced pregnancies are “really rare,” and that “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
The remarks by Akin, a Republican trying to unseat Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, placed abortion and rape at the center of the national political scene. Akin rejected calls from presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and others in his own party to withdraw from the race, requesting “forgiveness” in a new TV ad and allowing a Tuesday deadline to pass without removing his name from the ballot.
GOP leaders worry that Akin’s refusal to leave the race will help reelect McCaskill in a close contest that could determine which party has a majority in the US Senate.
Akin’s remarks put a light on the platform’s call for a ban on abortion that otherwise might have drawn little attention. The Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, noted that the absolute abortion ban “is the platform of the Republican Party; it is not the platform of Mitt Romney,” though the former Massachusetts governor has said in the past that he endorses identical language.
Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said Monday that the GOP presidential ticket “opposes abortion with exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.”
The Romney campaign declined to comment Tuesday on the platform committee’s vote, beyond the distinction drawn by Priebus.
But Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who is defending his seat against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, called the no-exceptions abortion ban a “mistake” in a letter to Priebus, saying it “fails to recognize the views of pro-choice Republicans like myself.”
“Even while I am pro-choice, I respect those who have a different opinion on this very difficult and sensitive issue,” Brown wrote. “Our party platform should make the same concession to those of us who believe in a woman’s right to choose.”
While Brown, Romney, and his vice presidential pick, Paul Ryan, have worked to distance themselves from Akin and sought to contrast their stances from the platform committee’s no-exceptions abortion ban, their Democratic opponents are fighting that effort.
Warren said Tuesday that reelecting Brown would empower a party that is hostile to women’s interests.
“He’s trying to advance a group that would have a profound effect on women,” Warren said during an event at the Omni Parker House on Beacon Hill. “Republicans are laying out their larger agenda, and women must pay attention.”
After the GOP platform committee vote, the Obama campaign swiftly organized a call with reporters to discuss the human life amendment proposed by what it called “Mitt Romney’s Republican Party.”
Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said despite Romney’s endorsement of exceptions to an abortion ban, the language approved by the GOP committee on Tuesday “was written at the direction of the Romney campaign.”
The platform committee wrote: “Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”
The Romney campaign denied instructing the committee to recycle language from the last two presidential election cycles. The Republican National Committee did not respond to a request for comment.
In 2007, during his first White House bid, Romney said in an interview with ABC News that he supports the same wording that the GOP approved again this year.
“I do support the Republican platform, and I support that [human life amendment language] being part of the Republican platform,” Romney said at the time.
Romney — a devout Mormon who has maintained a consistent, personal opposition to abortion — downplayed the issue during campaigns for Senate in 1994 and governor in 2002 out of deference, he has said, to the overriding sentiment of the Massachusetts electorate.
As a Senate candidate, he cited the death of his brother-in-law’s sister from complications of an illegal abortion as a touchstone.
“Since that time, my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter,” Romney said during a debate.
While running for governor, Romney said he would “respect and fully protect a woman’s right to choose.”
But midway through his term as governor, Romney brought his political position in line with his personal belief and became a vocal opponent of abortion, saying he could no longer justify the disconnect.
During a Republican presidential debate in 2007, Romney said he “would welcome a circumstance where there was such a consensus in this country that we said we don’t want to have abortion in this country at all, period.” He added that he would be “delighted to sign” a bill banning all abortions, but added, “that’s not where America is today.”
The Obama campaign has cited those remarks in ads asserting that Romney opposes abortions “even in cases of rape and incest.”
More recently, however, Romney wrote in a 2011 opinion piece in the National Review that he is “pro-life and believe[s] that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother” — the position he has maintained during the current campaign.
Romney’s selection of Ryan as his running mate has triggered a new round of attacks from abortion-rights advocates because of a link between the Wisconsin representative and Akin, and because Ryan has long opposed abortion, with the only exception being danger to the life of a pregnant woman.
In New Hampshire on Monday, Romney told a local TV station that Akin’s remarks were “deeply offensive” and said he and Ryan “can’t defend him.” Ryan, seated beside Romney , nodded his head in agreement.
But Akin effectively tied Ryan to his comment Monday when he said on the Mike Huckabee radio program that by “legitimate rape” he meant “forcible rape,” a term that appeared in a bill cosponsored last year by 227 House Republicans, including Akin and Ryan.
The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act narrowed an exemption to the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions. The Hyde Amendment allows federal dollars to be used for abortions only in cases of rape and incest, but the original version of the 2011 bill would have limited the incest exemption to minors and covered only victims of “forcible rape.”
The bill’s author, Representative Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey, never defined what constituted “forcible rape.” Opponents suggested the term could exclude women who are drugged and raped, mentally handicapped women who are coerced, and victims of statutory rape.
The “forcible” qualifier was removed before the bill passed in the House last May. The Democrat-controlled Senate did not take up the measure.
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan, said Tuesday that the Wisconsin representative had no role in drafting the version that included “forcible” and that he “supported removing the word from the legislation.”
Buck added that Ryan “sees no distinction” between “forcible rape” and any other kind of sexual assault, and that he supports the same abortion exemptions backed by Romney.Glen Johnson, Noah Bierman, and Michael Levenson of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.