After Todd Akin’s offensive and grossly misinformed comments about “legitimate rape” and a woman’s ability to just “shut that whole thing down” saying that women who are raped rarely get pregnant, countless citizens, public leaders, and politicians have been calling for him to drop out of his Senate race. I do think these calls are appropriate. It is obvious that Mr. Akin lacks even an elementary understanding of biology and, more importantly, lacks respect for women.
Akin has since apologized and vowed to stay in the race. He says he used the “wrong words” and that his words did not convey his “compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault.” Maybe that’s true, but I suspect it’s not. To be clear, I believe that he thinks he has a deep sense of respect and compassion for women, but his actions do not back up his words. The point he was making in the original interview was that even if a woman does get pregnant from a rape, abortion should not be an option: “I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” To be clear, the medical community does not consider conception to equal pregnancy; that comes at the stage of implantation. Regardless, Todd Akin co-sponsored a bill (with GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan, no less) that seeks to offer personhood status to a fertilized egg, a law that would then render various forms of birth control (e.g., “morning after” pill, IUDS) and processes like in vitro fertilization illegal.
The calls from the Republican party for Akin to step down have sounded great (well some of them at least – the Romney/Ryan ticket’s initial response was that they “disagreed” with Akin and that a Romney/Ryan administration would allow for abortion in the case of rape), but he is merely symptomatic of a deeper disease in the GOP. Their party platform, which will be supported with much fanfare next week at the Republican National Convention, calls for a personhood amendment to the US Constitution and is at odds with what Romney said his position was this week, as it does not allow for abortion in any case, except when the life of the mother is in danger.
It is clear that Republicans suffer from a gender gap – Obama currently leads Romney by 9 points and that lead jumps to 45 (!) points among women 18-29 years old – I expect to see this gap widen again as more and more women learn that Todd Akin is just the tip of the iceberg (Chris Cillizza wrote about this back in April). To be sure, he was the idiot who spoke out in the midst of a Senate race with national implications, but he is not alone in his views.
Democrats have been furiously working to link Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan with Todd Akin. In many cases the links are ripe for the picking (such H.R. 212, the so-called “Sanctity of Life” bill, which Akin and Ryan co-sponsored). In others, the linkage is more tenuous and has to do with general philosophies of women’s health concerns. Some Republicans are decrying the links between Romney/Ryan and Akin for obvious reasons – they are trying to distance themselves from the toxicity of Todd Akin currently. But what women and men everywhere need to understand is that while Akin may be an outlier in his belief in magic vaginas, the policies that he supports are in lock-step with Paul Ryan and the larger Republican Party platform. Remember that Paul Ryan worked with Akin last year trying to redefine rape so that only victims of “forcible” rape would be able to use federal money to terminate a pregnancy. The implication of this is quite clear: statutory rape, date rape, spousal rape, etc. do not count as “real” rape. But what men and women across the country know is just what President Obama said in response to Akin’s comments yesterday: “Rape is rape.”
If any good comes from Todd Akin’s senseless comments, it will be that more and more Americans will become aware of exactly what goals the Republican Party has for abortion legislation, which is to say, many want to go back to a time before Roe v. Wade. And we are now supposed to praise the more “progressive” members of the party who want to allow for exemptions to an abortion ban only in cases of (some) rape(s), incest, and when the mother’s life is in danger. Certainly, not all Republicans share Akin’s horrendous knowledge of basic biology, but we must be clear that his comments allow the country to peer through the looking glass and see how the Republican party truly views women.