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The Globe and Mail

It’s time for a call to arms on abortion

You know you have wandered into a weird political landscape when rabid right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh, who just a few short months ago shamefully called Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" for her views on birth control, loudly condemns Republican candidate Todd Akin's now famous distortion about "legitimate rape" and the female body as "just absurd. It's not intelligent."

Welcome to pelvic politics, the next chapter, in which American voters are given yet another glimpse into a party that has allowed misogyny to permeate its very core.

Misogyny means "the hatred, dislike and mistrust of women and girls."

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When you deny a woman the right to choose when to bear a child, when you call her a slut for wanting access to birth control, when you promulgate a sexual theory that draws dubious distinctions about rape and its victims, and asserts the female body would repel the semen of a rapist (in the face of haunting evidence all over the world), you are hating, disliking and mistrusting women and girls. You are denying them their equality.

As the GOP convention gets under way in Tampa next week, threatened by hurricanes without and within, the entire top tier of the party was begging the Missouri congressman to take his medieval sex ed manual and go away. He hasn't dropped out of the race – so far – but he agreed to stay far away from the convention.

The party officials want prospective voters to believe that Mr. Akin, in "thinking outside the box" as New York Times columnist Gail Collins so memorably phrased it, is an anomaly in a party that must – must – engage women voters if it wants to defeat Barack Obama.

Mr. Akin, with his uncompromising views on abortion and his abysmal ignorance about female sexuality, is not an aberration. He is, as Sally Kohn argued on, "merely the latest canary in a coal mine of crazy."

And that is the real problem. The Republican party platform has, as one of its key planks, a motion that does not allow abortion under any circumstances, which is only logical if you believe abortion is murder. (The Romney/Ryan ticket, committed to repealing Roe v Wade, supports access to abortion in cases of rape and incest.)

A majority of Americans, those not fuelled by extreme religious views, do not support such restricted access and here is why: Somewhere in their lives, a woman they know and love – a daughter, a sister, a wife, a girlfriend or the sad little girl next door – has desperately needed an abortion. Forget the why of it – a dreadful mistake, a birth control failure, a rape – it is a fact.

You can lament all you want that abortion is a tragedy, but you can't turn back the clock and make it completely illegal. It should always be, as Hillary Clinton once put it, "safe, legal and rare."

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Moderate Republicans know this. Among them, David Frum has argued that legislating against abortion is the wrong way to go when cultural attitudes seem to be shifting enough to make it a societal no-no. He writes on The Daily Beast: "The history of the temperance movement might offer a precedent for the abortion debate: the attempt to ban alcohol was abandoned, even as drunkenness was radically reduced."

Every time you try to legislate against abortion, you provoke a huge, frightened backlash. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, dealing with the Akinses in his own party, knows this and won't go anywhere near the abortion debate.

Yet I am starting to think we should just have at it in both countries. Let's have that debate. Let every woman and the men who love them stand and proclaim they would vote for a party that would make abortion a crime and deny them the right – under any circumstance whatsoever – to choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

The majority would not do it. People vote their self-interest. They also vote emotionally. Here is a prime example: In America, the religious right's virulent campaign against homosexuality and gay marriage is starting to crumble. Why? More gays are coming out, and as their family, friends, co-workers and neighbours accept them as people they respect and cherish, they also question the unfairness of denying them a basic civil right.

I'm sure many would quarrel with the view that the Akin furor reveals the Republican party as misogynistic. Look at all the successful Republican women! And didn't most senior Republicans rise up as one and condemn this wing nut?

The Republican party can banish Todd Akin. It can put on a good show in Florida about how it's the party of equality for women as well as men. It can try to change the subject back to "what women really care about – jobs," as one conservative commentator put it.

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But it can't erase the taint of misogyny. It's there. A Republican party, in its very platform, admits it wants to control a woman's reproductive system.

Whether it understands how it works or not.

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