It is hard to imagine that anyone in 2012 could believe that victims of “legitimate rape” can’t get pregnant, let alone that a six-term congressman who sits on the House Science Committee would assert something so ignorant. By way of explaining his views on abortion, US Representative Todd Akin, the Republican nominee in the Missouri Senate race, voiced that egregious superstition in a television interview on Sunday, and has been facing calls for his withdrawal from the race ever since.
Akin himself has admitted that he was deeply flawed in his understanding of science and anatomy, and in suggesting that some rapes are “legitimate,” while some are not. But while his own political future is in question, his underlying position on abortion is, in fact, the party line. The substance of Akin’s stance — that rape should not be a valid exception to an abortion ban — is no different from that of presumptive vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, or from a draft of the national GOP platform, released Tuesday, which calls for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion, with no exceptions for rape or incest. And Ryan, like Akin, cosponsored a bill that would have changed the language in laws that prevent federal funding of abortion, limiting exceptions to “forcible rape.”
There is, in fact, a moral and intellectual consistency to the no-exceptions stance, part of a deeply felt philosophy about the rights of unborn children. (Mitt Romney, for his part, favors an exception for rape.) The challenge for the GOP will be squaring its pro-life fervor with independent women voters, many of whom view abortion bans — and ill-considered comments like Akin’s — as indicating a lack of respect for women.
Indeed, the mere implications of the phrase “legitimate rape” are disturbing: Do some anti-abortion leaders believe rape victims who get pregnant are just making up stories? Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican, made a point similar to Akin’s in saying he’d never heard of statutory rape or incest being the cause of pregnancy. The two Republicans are inviting questions about how well male politicians can understand women’s point of view on this most personal of issues — and about abortion laws so stringent that some proponents deny basic biology to justify them.