Akin Shifts Political Debate To Rape

In this April 5, 2011, file photo, Rep. Paul Ryan, left, and Rep. Todd Akin talk before a news conference on Ryan's budget agenda on Capitol Hill. (AP)
In this April 5, 2011, file photo, Rep. Paul Ryan, left, and Rep. Todd Akin talk before a news conference on Ryan's budget agenda on Capitol Hill. (AP)

Wasn’t it supposed to be all about jobs? Leading up to the Republican National Convention in Florida next week, the No. 1 political topic is rape.

Rep. Todd Akin’s ignorant and insulting remark about rape, trying to distinguish good rapes from bad, is a potential calamity for the Republican Party. It could cost the GOP a chance to take a Senate seat in Missouri from the Democrats, becoming the tipping point in what might be a 50-50 balance in the Senate.

But it has also changed the national debate from the economy, where President Obama is potentially vulnerable, to an issue — abortion — where Mitt Romney and the Republicans face the wrath of women who believe they have been targeted on their reproductive rights by male politicians.

Ryan-Akin on "personhood." Rep. Barney Frank once said anti-abortion fanatics “believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth.” As congressional colleagues, Rep. Paul Ryan co-sponsored with Akin a national “personhood” bill that defines a single-celled zygote as having all the rights of an American citizen. In an interview on Pittsburgh's KDKA-TV, Ryan tried to steer the discussion to jobs and the economy, but it turned out to be all about rape and abortion. The subject clearly made him uncomfortable. Here’s an excerpt:

Reporter: “Should abortions be available to women who are raped?”

Ryan: “Well, look, 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. But Mitt Romney is the top of the ticket and Mitt Romney will be president and he will set the policy of the Romney administration.”

Suddenly a tight race. Prior to Akin's blunder, it was widely believed that Sen. Claire McCaskill, the incumbent, was the most vulnerable Democratic U.S. senator up for election this year. Allowing that it’s a Democratic firm that uses an automated calling system, Public Policy Polling released a “flash” poll showing that Akin has slumped to a one-point lead vs. McCaskill.

Talent in the wings. Former Sen. Jim Talent lost narrowly to McCaskill in 2006 but declined to run this time, ignoring pleas from Republican leaders. While he appears to want a Cabinet job with Romney, it’s possible Romney would ask him to accept the nomination on a temporary basis to help his party and Romney. See this list of other possible replacements.

Tip of the iceberg. Some Republicans have bizarre views on rape and pregnancy. Two days after Akin blurted out his widely condemned beliefs on rape, Rep. Steve King, Republican of Iowa, said he had “never heard of a child becoming pregnant from rape or incest.”

According to The Baltimore Sun, Akin is not alone in his peculiar beliefs:

Georgia's Tom Price [GOP] has claimed that not a single American woman lacks access to birth control. Arizona's Trent Franks [GOP] believes African-Americans were better off during slavery because abortion today "devastates" their community more than enslavement did. Florida's Allen West, [an African-American Republican] warned that liberal women are "neutering" American men and ... that this trend will inevitably lead to higher deficits. [Say, what?!]

No abortions, no exceptions. At a Personhood USA national radio event last year, four GOP presidential candidates — Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry — made a public commitment to ban all abortions, even in cases of rape, incest and threats to a woman’s health.

Is it any wonder so many Democratic women believe that Republicans are waging a war on women?

This program aired on August 22, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

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Dan Payne Democratic Political Analyst
Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst for WBUR.



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