It is going to be difficult for anyone in the U.S. election campaign to outperform Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin in the gaffe department. But as abhorrent as his lukewarmly retracted claim that a woman can prevent herself from becoming pregnant during a rape was, it is perhaps equally disturbing – and of greater consequence – that the Republican Party is now perilously close to endorsing an absolute ban on abortions, including for victims of rape and incest.
Mr. Akin, a U.S. Representative from Missouri running for the Senate, said on Aug. 19 that in “a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” This notion dates back to medieval times in England, when it was believed that a woman could only conceive during consensual sex; a law at the time consequently said that pregnancy was absolute grounds for acquittal on a charge of rape.
Lawmakers and physicians in the 13th century can be forgiven for their medical errors; Mr. Akin had no excuse, and was immediately pilloried by fellow Republicans and asked to step down as the party’s candidate. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney distanced himself from the remark and reiterated that, while opposed to abortion, he personally would allow it for rape and incest victims.
But here is the problem: Mr. Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, is a well-known and vocal opponent of abortion in cases of rape and incest, or even when the mother’s health is in danger. As well, the GOP’s platform committee last week adopted a strict anti-abortion provision that will likely be formally adopted at the Republicans’ convention in Florida this week. The provision calls for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion without exception.
Thus, on the one hand the Republican Party is noisily condemning a lone candidate with a poor grasp of human reproductive biology, while on the other it might embrace the same policy that this misconception led him toward. If that indeed proves the case, the Republican backlash against Mr. Akin will have been a somewhat empty gesture.