Right-wing media figures have downplayed and dismissed Republican Congressman Todd Akin's controversial remarks on rape and abortion, calling them “dumb” and a distraction. But Akin's rhetoric is reflected in actual policies pushed by conservatives.
Todd Akin: It's “Really Rare” For “Legitimate Rape” Victims To Become Pregnant
Todd Akin: “If It's A Legitimate Rape, The Female Body Has Ways To Try To Shut That Whole Thing Down.” During an interview with local St. Louis TV station KTVI, Akin claimed that it's “really rare” for women subjected to “legitimate rape” to become pregnant:
AKIN: First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work, or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child. [KTVI-St. Louis, 8/20/12]
Akin Later Claimed That His Remarks Were “Off-The-Cuff” And That He “Misspoke.” Following outrage over his comments, Akin subsequently released a statement in which he called his remarks “off-the-cuff” and claimed he “misspoke”:
As a member of Congress, I believe that working to protect the most vulnerable in our society is one of my most important responsibilities, and that includes protecting both the unborn and victims of sexual assault. In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year. Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve.
I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action. I also recognize that there are those who, like my opponent, support abortion and I understand I may not have their support in this election. [KTVI-St. Louis, 8/20/12]
Akin: “This Weekend I Made A Mistake. I Used The Wrong Words In The Wrong Way.” On August 20, Akin released another statement in which he said he “used the wrong words in the wrong way” and apologized: “This weekend I made a mistake. I used the wrong words in the wrong way. What I said was ill-conceived and it was wrong and for that I apologize. I'm a dad of two daughters and I want tough justice for sexual predators and I've always had a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault.” [Todd Akin for U.S. Senate, 8/20/12]
Conservative Media Figures Dismissed Akin's Comments As “Dumb” And A Distraction
Erick Erickson: Akin “Made A Very Dumb Statement And Dumb Statements Are Salvageable.” Discussing whether Akin would continue his candidacy for Senate, CNN contributor Erick Erickson repeatedly called Akin's “legitimate rape” remarks “dumb,” saying at one point, “I think Todd Akin made a very dumb statement and dumb statements are salvageable.” From CNN:
ERICKSON: I think it was a dumb statement, poorly chosen words. There are a lot of pro-lifers who believe that there shouldn't be a rape exception -- he's one of them. I understand it, though. I tend to disagree myself on that particular exception.
ERICKSON: I think Todd Akin made a very dumb statement and dumb statements are salvageable. But I don't think, given the pile-on by the Republican Party today, that he can survive this, because you have an entire party throwing him under the bus. [CNN, The Situation Room, 8/20/12]
Pat Robertson: “He Made A Dumb Remark, So Don't We All?” On his Christian Broadcasting Network show, Pat Robertson dismissed Akin's comments, saying:
ROBERTSON: So, he screwed up. He made a dumb remark, so don't we all? And it's a time to say, OK, Todd, you apologized, you misspoke, and let's get on with life, let's run the campaign. I mean, you know, the [unintelligible] you know, former circular firing squad and go after each other. Not smart. [Christian Broadcasting Network, The 700 Club, 8/21/12]
Dana Loesch: Akin “Failed A Soundbite.” CNN contributor Dana Loesch repeatedly downplayed Akin's comments, writing on Twitter that Akin “was trying to fit medical explanation into a soundbite” and that he “failed a soundbite”:
[Twitter, 8/19/12, via Media Matters]
Ann Coulter: “More People Are Killed In Drive-By Shootings In Chicago Every Year.” In a Human Events column, conservative commentator and frequent Fox News guest Ann Coulter claimed that the “point I believe Akin was ultimately driving at was that this is a teeny-tiny percentage of all abortions, so why are we spending all our time taking about it?” She continued:
How about saying: “Yes, it's still a life, but more people are killed in drive-by shootings in Chicago every year. You give us the 2 million abortions that aren't a result of rape and incest and we'll give you the few thousand that are.”
Instead, Akin rambled about “legitimate rape” -- violating an ironclad rule of politicians that the word “legitimate” should never appear within 15 yards of the word “rape.” And he talked about the medical possibility of becoming pregnant from a single traumatizing rape. [Human Events, 8/20/12]
David Catanese: Akin “Meant To Convey There's Less Chance Of Getting Pregnant If Raped.” Discussing Akin's comments on his Twitter feed, Politico reporter David Catanese dismissed the growing outrage and proceeded to defend Akin “for argument's sake.” Catanese wrote that Akin “meant to convey that there's less chance of getting pregnant if raped” and that if “a woman was REALLY raped, it's statistically less likely for her to get pregnant.” He added: “What's the science?” Catanese later called his exchanges on Twitter a “bad idea.” [Twitter, 8/20/12, via Media Matters]
Mike Huckabee: Rape Is “Inexcusable And Indefensible,” But Sometimes Victims Give Birth To People Who Go On To Do “Extraordinary Things.” Discussing the controversy with Akin on his radio show, Fox News host Mike Huckabee deflected from Akin's comments by saying that women who are raped sometimes give birth to people who “are able to do extraordinary things”:
HUCKABEE: That's one of the things that people have said is that it is medically incorrect to say that if you are raped, that you won't have a pregnancy because obviously there are a number of people -- Ethel Waters, for example, is the result -- was the result of a forcible rape.
I used to work for James Robison back in the 1970s. He leads a large Christian organization. He, himself, was the result of a forcible rape. And you know, so, I know it happens, and yet even from those horrible, horrible tragedies of rape, which are inexcusable and indefensible, life has come, and sometimes, you know, those people are able to do extraordinary things. [Cumulus Media Network, The Mike Huckabee Show, 8/20/12]
NRO's Charmaine Yoest: Children Of Rape Victims “Are Vibrant Reminders Of The Truth That Life Has Value, No Matter Its Beginnings.” In a National Review Online post, contributor Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of pro-life group Americans United for Life, deflected from the Akin controversy by saying that children conceived from rape “are vibrant reminders of the truth that Life has value, no matter its beginnings.” She wrote:
Lost in the controversy and political fallout over Representative Todd Akin's comments about a rape exception to abortion is the fact that the most eloquent defenders of the value of every human life are people like my friends Ryan Bomberger and Rebecca Kiessling, both of whom were conceived in rape. Today Ryan and Rebecca are vibrant reminders of the truth that Life has value, no matter its beginnings.
There is no doubt that violence against women is a tragedy and there is real suffering surrounding this issue. There should never be any confusion about that point, particularly in this politically charged environment where the abortion lobby has succeeded in framing their messaging around the so-called War on Women meme. [National Review Online, 8/21/12]
Conservative Rhetoric Reflected In Actual GOP Policies On Rape And Women's Reproductive Choices
CNN: Republican Party Official 2012 Platform Includes “Constitutional Ban On Abortion” With No Rape Exception. As reported by CNN, the Republican Party's official 2012 platform calls for a constitutional ban on all abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest or to save a woman's life. From CNN:
Republicans drafting their party's official policy platform on Tuesday ratified a call for a Constitutional ban on abortion that makes no exceptions for rape or incest.
The vote to endorse the party's long-standing opposition to abortion and support for a “human life amendment” took place at a meeting of the GOP's official platform committee in Tampa, the site of next week's Republican National Convention.
The party's official stance on abortion was approved after just a few minutes of discussion. The language in the platform must be voted on before the full Republican Convention next week, though Republicans say it is all but certain to pass.
“Faithful to the 'self-evident' truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” the platform language declares. “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children.” [CNN, 8/21/12]
Boston Globe: Paul Ryan And Most Of House GOP Co-Sponsored A Bill That Would Have Redefined Rape. The Boston Globe wrote that “Mitt Romney and Congressman Paul Ryan say they disagree with Missouri Representative Todd Akin's opposition to abortions for rape victims, but Akin's reference Sunday to 'legitimate rape' recalled the 'forcible rape' language contained in a bill Ryan co-sponsored last year.” The Globe continued:
Last year, Ryan joined Akin as one of 227 co-sponsors of a bill that narrowed an exemption to the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions. The Hyde Amendment allows federal dollars to be used for abortions in cases of rape and incest, but the proposed bill -- authored by New Jersey Representative Christopher H. Smith -- would have limited the incest exemption to minors and covered only victims of “forcible rape.”
House Republicans never defined what constituted “forcible rape” and what did not, but critics of the bill suggested the term could exclude women who are drugged and raped, mentally handicapped women who are coerced, and victims of statutory rape.
The “forcible” qualifier was eventually removed before the bill passed the House last May. The Democrat-controlled Senate did not vote on the measure. [The Boston Globe, 8/20/12]
Republican House Sought To Pass Anti-Abortion Bill That Would Not Include Exception For Rape. An August 20 Politico article pointed out that both Akin and Ryan sponsored GOP-led legislation called the “Sanctity of Human Life Act,” which “empowers the federal and state governments” to ban abortion and “makes no exception for rape.” From Politico:
Like Akin, Ryan is a co-sponsor of the “Sanctity of Human Life Act,” a so-called personhood measure that defines life as beginning at “fertilization, cloning or its functional equivalent” and empowers the federal and state governments to pass laws to protect life from that point on. The bill makes no exception for rape. [Politico, 8/20/12]
GOP House Tried To Pass Bill That Sought A Ban On Abortions In DC After 20 Weeks Even In Cases Of Rape. House Republicans tried to pass the “District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which would have banned abortions in Washington, D.C., after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but it was voted down after failing to gain the two-thirds majority it needed to pass. As Politico reported, it would have “criminalized abortions after 20 weeks even in cases of rape, incest, and fetal abnormalities”:
The restriction would not apply in situations where the life of the mother was threatened but it would criminalize abortions after 20 weeks even in cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormalities. Doctors would face up to two years of jail time and fines for not complying with the law. [Politico, 7/31/12]
GOP House Passed Bill That Would Allow Hospitals To Refuse To Perform Abortions, Even To Save A Woman's Life. In October 2011, House Republicans passed the “Protect Life Act,” which will make it legal for hospitals morally opposed to abortion to deny to perform the procedure even in cases to save a woman's life. As The Huffington Post reported:
H.R. 358, introduced by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), goes beyond the issue of taxpayer dollars to place actual limits on the way a woman spends her own money. The bill would prevent a woman from buying a private insurance plan that includes abortion coverage through a state health care exchange, even though most insurance plans currently cover abortion.
An even more controversial aspect of the bill would allow hospitals that are morally opposed to abortion, such as Catholic institutions, to do nothing for a woman who requires an emergency abortion procedure to save her life. Current law requires that hospitals give patients in life-threatening situations whatever care they need, regardless of the patient's financial situation, but the Protect Life Act would make a hospital's obligation to provide care in medical emergencies secondary to its refusal to provide abortions.
According to the American Journal of Public Health, Catholic hospitals already have a years-long history of ignoring the emergency care law to avoid performing abortions. In late 2009, an Arizona bishop excommunicated a nun who authorized an abortion procedure for a woman who otherwise might have died of pulmonary hypertension at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix. [The Huffington Post, 10/13/11]
Virginia GOP Passed Measure To Require “Invasive” Vaginal Ultrasound Before Abortions. In February, Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates introduced a bill that would have required women in the early stages of pregnancy to undergo an “invasive” transvaginal ultrasound before an abortion. Following public pressure, the House of Delegates passed a modified version of the bill that still requires a medically unnecessary ultrasound. From Mother Jones:
Virginia's controversial mandatory ultrasound bill is now headed to Gov. Bob McDonnell's desk. While the final version of the bill allows women to opt out of having an invasive transvaginal ultrasound -- the provision that drew a national spotlight in the last couple weeks -- don't be fooled: It's still a burdensome law.
The original bill would have required women seeking an abortion to undergo whatever kind of ultrasound gets the best image of the embryo or fetus. In the early stages of pregnancy -- when the vast majority of abortions occur -- that's typically a transvaginal ultrasound, which is far more invasive than the abdominal kind (think jelly-on-the-belly). That requirement was scrapped at the eleventh hour, after a deluge of national attention.
Abortion rights activists said mandating such an invasive procedure amounted to “state-sanctioned rape,” a comparison that clearly struck a nerve: Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show took cracks at the bill; more than a thousand women gathered in silent protest outside the state capitol. Eventually, McDonnell backtracked on his initial support, stating last week, “No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure.” [Mother Jones, 3/3/12]
Georgia GOP Gov. Signed Bill That Cuts Option For Abortion Services After 20 Weeks. In May, the Republican governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, signed a bill into a law that will “ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, cutting by about six weeks the time women in Georgia may have an elective abortion.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:
Deal's signature makes Georgia the latest state to generally ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, cutting by about six weeks the time women in Georgia may have an elective abortion.
Commonly referred to as a “fetal pain” bill, House Bill 954 will tighten medical exemptions for terminating pregnancies and require any abortion performed after 20 weeks be done in a way to bring the fetus out alive. The new law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, makes no exception for rape or incest. The measure says that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, therefore the state has an interest in protecting it.
Supporters have said the law will save lives and protect more fetuses. “It's going to save 1,200 babies a year,” said state Rep. Doug McKillip, R-Athens, who sponsored HB 954.
Opponents said the state is legislating decisions that should be made by medical experts and puts doctors at risk who work with difficult pregnancies.
According to doctors' testimony during hearings earlier this year, medical experts widely believe fetuses do not fully develop connections related to pain before at least 24 weeks. [The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/1/12]
Guttmacher Institute: Since GOP Won House, It Has Introduced 916 Measures Intended To Curb Women's Reproductive Choices. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 916 measures were introduced in the first quarter of 2011 meant to curb women's reproductive rights. Guttmacher found that the proposals were “more hostile to abortion rights than in the past”:
To date, legislators have introduced 916 measures related to reproductive health and rights in the 49 legislatures that have convened their regular sessions.
In addition to these laws, more than 120 other bills have been approved by at least one chamber of the legislature, and some interesting trends are emerging. As a whole, the proposals introduced this year are more hostile to abortion rights than in the past: 56% of the bills introduced so far this year seek to restrict abortion access, compared with 38% last year. Three topics --insurance coverage of abortion, restriction of abortion after a specific point in gestation and ultrasound requirements -- are topping the agenda in several states.
At the same time, legislators are proposing little in the way of proactive initiatives aimed at expanding access to reproductive health -- related services; this stands in sharp contrast to recent years when a range of initiatives to promote comprehensive sex education, permit expedited STI treatment for patients' partners and ensure insurance coverage of contraception were adopted. [Guttmacher Institute, accessed 8/21/12]