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In Akin's Wake, Ryan Defends Anti-Abortion Record

Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan speaks at a campaign event in Fayetteville, N.C., on Thursday. (AP)

Since Republican Rep. Todd Akin first said the words "legitimate rape" Sunday, just about everyone in the Republican Party has condemned those comments.

The Missouri Senate candidate later apologized, but his remarks continue to drive the political debate. They've also raised questions about the anti-abortion record of the Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Akin opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, and so does Ryan, who has a score of 100 percent from the National Right to Life Committee, the highest possible rating. The group's president has praised Ryan for his work on anti-abortion bills since 1999.

"I'm proud of my pro-life record and I stand by my pro-life record in Congress," Ryan said in an interview Tuesday with CBS Pittsburgh affiliate KDKA. "It's something I'm proud of."

That record includes support for dozens of bills that place restrictions on abortion. Last year, Ryan co-sponsored a bill with dozens of other House members to ban federal funding for abortion. The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act originally allowed exceptions only for "forcible rape," the same language Akin used.

When the KDKA reporter pressed Ryan about the phrase, which was later removed, Ryan said: "Rape is rape. Period. End of story."

"So that 'forcible rape' language meant nothing to you at the time?," the reporter asked.

Ryan replied: "Rape is rape, and there's no splitting hairs over rape."

Ryan has been an outspoken opponent of abortion for his entire political career. He backed a measure that makes it a separate crime for a fetus that's killed in connection with another violent crime, and a bill to ban abortion at 20 weeks in the District of Columbia, based on the theory that fetuses can feel pain.

Ryan co-sponsored a measure to ban a specific medical procedure, intact dilation and extraction. Abortion opponents call it "partial birth abortion." In a speech on the House floor in 2000, he attacked the health exception that was included in that bill.

"Let me just say this to all of my colleagues who are about to vote on this issue, on the motion to recommit, the health exception is a loophole wide enough to drive a Mack truck through it," Ryan said. "The health exception would render this ban virtually meaningless."

But perhaps the most far-reaching measure Ryan co-sponsored with Todd Akin and many other GOP congressmen is the Sanctity of Human Life Act, which would give legal rights to fertilized eggs from the moment of conception.

The bill is similar to personhood initiatives that have been rejected in Colorado and Mississippi. Abortion-rights activists say this legislation would ban some forms of birth control and fertility treatments.

This week, Ryan acknowledged that his views did not align perfectly with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on abortion. But speaking on his campaign plane, he said Romney is at the top of the ticket and he will defer to him.

"Mitt Romney is going to be the president," Ryan said, responding to reporters questions. "The president sets policy. His policy is exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother. I'm comfortable with it because it's a good step in the right direction. I'll leave it at that."

Meanwhile, Democrats are taking full advantage of the controversy. President Obama condemned Akin's rape comments and went further with this appeal to female voters.

"I think the underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their health care decisions — or qualifying forcible rape versus nonforcible rape — I think those are broader issues, and that is a significant difference in approach between ... me and the other party," Obama said Monday.

The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, said in an email following Akin's comments that Republicans continue to support legislation that will take "women back to the dark ages." The president's re-election campaign just released a new Web video highlighting "Republican women for Obama."

"If you're a conservative woman and you believe in small government, then Barack Obama is your candidate because he's keeping the government out of the decisions that should remain between you and God and you and your own conscience," says a woman in the ad.

Democrats will try to extend the debate about women's rights as long as they can. Republicans hope to get back on their campaign message about fixing the economy.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. This week began with GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin making the false claim that pregnancy is rare in cases of what he called legitimate rape. His explanation: The female body would somehow shut the whole thing down. He later apologized. Since then, many top Republicans have condemned Akin's comments, but his words continue to drive political debate. As NPR's Kathy Lohr reports, they've also raised questions about the anti-abortion record of vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Todd Akin opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and so does Congressman Ryan. Ryan gets a 100 score from the National Right to Life Committee, the highest possible. The group's president praised Ryan for his work on anti-abortion bills since 1999. And this week, Ryan talked about that.

PAUL RYAN: I'm proud of my pro-life record, and I stand by my pro-life record in Congress. It's something I'm proud of.

LOHR: That record includes support for dozens of bills that place restrictions on abortion. Last year, Ryan co-sponsored a bill with dozens of other House members to ban federal funding for abortion. The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act originally allowed exceptions only for, quote, "forcible rape," the same language Akin used. On a Pittsburgh TV station this week, a reporter pressed Ryan about the phrase which was later removed.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADCAST)

RYAN: Rape is rape, period, end of story.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So that forcible rape language meant nothing to you at the time?

RYAN: Rape is rape, and there's no splitting hairs over rape.

LOHR: The congressman from Wisconsin has been an outspoken opponent of abortion for his entire political career. He backed a measure that makes it a separate crime for a fetus that's killed in connection with another violent crime and a bill to ban abortion at 20 weeks in the District of Columbia based on the theory that fetuses can feel pain. Ryan co-sponsored a measure to ban a specific medical procedure: intact dilation and extraction. Abortion opponents call it partial-birth abortion. In a speech on the House floor in 2000, he attacked the health care exception that was included in that bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

RYAN: Let me just say this to all of my colleagues who are about to vote on this issue: On the motion to recommit, the health exception is a loophole wide enough to drive a Mack truck through it. The health exception would render this ban virtually meaningless.

LOHR: But perhaps the most far-reaching measure Ryan co-sponsored with Todd Akin and many other GOP congressmen is the Sanctity of Human Life Act. It would give legal rights to fertilized eggs from the moment of conception. This bill is similar to personhood initiatives that have been rejected in Colorado and Mississippi. Abortion rights activists say this legislation would ban some forms of birth control and fertility treatments. This week, Ryan acknowledged that his views did not align perfectly with Mitt Romney on abortion, but speaking on his campaign plane, he said Romney is at the top of the ticket, and he will defer to him.

RYAN: Mitt Romney is going to be the president. The president sets the policy. His policy is exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother. I'm comfortable with it because it's a good step in the right direction. I'll leave it at that.

LOHR: Meanwhile, Democrats are taking full advantage of the controversy. President Obama condemned Akin's rape comments and went further with this appeal to women voters.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think the underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their health care decisions, or qualifying forcible rape versus nonforcible rape, I think those are broader issues, and that is a significant difference in approach between me and the other party.

LOHR: Chair of the Democratic National Committee Debbie Wasserman Schultz says the Republicans continue to support legislation that will take women back to the Dark Ages. And the president's campaign just released a new Web video highlighting Republican women for Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEB VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: If you're a conservative woman and you believe in small government, then Barack Obama is your candidate because he's keeping the government out of the decisions that should remain between you and God and you and your own conscience.

LOHR: While Democrats try to extend the debate about women's rights as long as they can, Republicans hope to get back on their campaign message about fixing the economy. Kathy Lohr, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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