U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) opposes abortion, even in instances of rape. (Jeff Roberson / Associated…)
The Republican candidate for a U.S. Senate seat from Missouri is rightly being excoriated for his suggestion that a "legitimate rape" seldom results in pregnancy because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." This pseduo-scientific theory, which I remember from debates about abortion laws in Pennsylvania, has amazing staying power among abortion foes. But in endorsing it in what he later called "off-the-cuff remarks," Rep. Todd Akin committed a major gaffe.
What’s being lost in the outrage, real and manufactured, over Akin’s comments is that he went on to say that if even if that mysterious process didn’t kick in, “I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child."
He made the same point in his semi-apology: “I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life, and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”
In other words, Akin believes a victim of rape should give birth to her rapist’s child, whether pregnancy as a result of rape is rare or common. In taking that position, he is being principled and consistent, whereas those who make exceptions for rape and incest -- including the Romney-Ryan ticket -- are engaging in political trimming. If you believe that human personhood begins at conception and that a fetus has a right to life that the law must vindicate, an exception for rape logically cannot be justified.
The U.S. Catholic bishops recognize this. Their anti-abortion agenda calls for “passage of a constitutional amendment that will protect unborn children's right to life to the maximum degree possible,” a recognition of the reality that exceptions for rape and incest have broad political support even among those who otherwise oppose abortion. But that pragmatic accommodation to political reality is different from an assertion that those exceptions are desirable or logically consistent.
The latter position, however, seems to be that of the Romney-Ryan campaign. “Gov. Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin's statement,” the campaign said, “and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.” But why not? At least Akin is consistent.
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