Missouri congressman Todd Akin’s outrageously weird assertion that a woman cannot get pregnant from “forcible rape” exposes three predicaments facing the Republican Party.
First, Akin has made himself so toxic that he may lose his race against Missouri’s Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and thereby kill any chance Republicans have of taking control of the U.S. Senate.
Second, Akin’s sudden notoriety is bringing to public attention the fact that his absolutist stance on abortion is fully shared by a guy named Paul Ryan, the chap who will be nominated for the vice presidency at the Republican convention next week.
And third, Akin is no wacky outlier in his party. Plenty of Republican lawmakers believe odd and absurd things just like he does and, increasingly, they dominate the party.
The big campaign money is now running from Akin. The national GOP, Karl Rove’s “super PACs” and two big tea party organizations have all announced that Akin will no longer get their financial support. Fox News attack dog Sean Hannity has told him he should quit the race. So have a crowd of Republican senators and the GOP national chairman, Reince Priebus. He even got a call from his buddy, Paul Ryan, who reportedly suggested he should drop out and let someone else take on McCaskill. But Akin has so far refused to quit. Instead, he is using the occasion to send out fundraising messages in which he hilariously whines that “the liberal media” is trying to drive him out of the race. (Sean Hannity is liberal media?)
Mitt Romney was quick to condemn Akin, and his campaign stipulated that, as president, Romney would allow abortion for pregnancies resulting from rape (despite the fact the GOP’s platform committee just adopted a plank refusing to make exceptions for rape or incest). Like many of Romney’s positions, it is hard to square that stance with some of his past statements--in this case, that he would enthusiastically sign a bill to outlaw all abortions and that he supports a “personhood” amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would bestow full rights on a fertilized egg, thereby making abortions nearly impossible.
Ryan has not been ambiguous on the issue at all. He would allow abortion only to save the life of the mother. He teamed up with Akin to sponsor a bill to distinguish “forcible rape” from some other kind. (What would that be, unforced rape? Consensual rape? Not-so-bad rape? Happy rape?) He, too, wants a personhood amendment. He has also supported a bill that would require women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound probe – thus nationalizing the notorious scheme that recently failed to win approval in Virginia.
Ryan is a champion of the antiabortion cause. As yet, though, no one has suggested he shares the curious idea that Akin put forward, the hypothesis that women who are raped cannot really get pregnant because they secrete a mysterious substance that prevents fertilization.
But poor, beleaguered Rep. Akin did not come up with this weirdness on his own. The secret secretions idea has been pushed by antiabortion activists and Republican legislators at least since 1988. It’s a convenient piece of quack science for pro-lifers because, if a woman’s body resists pregnancy in the case of a “real” rape, then all the women who claim to have been impregnated by rapists – more than 32,000 in the U.S. annually – are actually lying and, therefore, should not be allowed to abort.
As Michele Bachmann proves on a regular basis, there is a cohort of Republican officeholders who eagerly champion any bizarre pseudo-science or conspiratorial fantasy that supports their political or religious beliefs. Akin is just the latest of these and he will not be the last. This unhinged faction could be a problem for the party if not for the fact that a big percentage of voters are perfectly willing to believe ridiculous things.
Who knows? Despite what everyone says today, if Todd Akin hangs in there, he might find there are enough gullible knuckleheads in Missouri to turn him into an honest-to-God U.S. senator.