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Akin's Consistency Is GOP's Real Problem

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The political convulsion over Missouri Republican Todd Akin's bizarre talk of "legitimate rape" highlights an issue that the GOP had buried in its campaign.

While the U.S. senatorial candidate's grasp of reproductive science is shockingly lacking -- he said real rape victims rarely get pregnant -- his position that abortions be banned with no exception for rape happens to be in the new Republican Party platform. It is a stance that most Americans, including most registered Republicans, disagree with and probably didn't know was an official party position. Now they do.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders can't avoid the truth that Akin's call to do away with the rape exception is a principled "pro-life" position. If you believe that the cell cluster created when a sperm fertilizes an egg is a full a human being, then it shouldn't matter whether it was made through marital love or a violent crime. So holding that rape victims shouldn't be forced to have the child of their tormenters is a cop-out. When Missouri Right to Life says it supports Akin's "defense of the life of an innocent unborn child conceived by rape," it is being consistent.

I believe that abortions should be easy to obtain early in a pregnancy and progressively harder to get as time goes on. The issue isn't when life begins, but when "personhood" begins. Sperm, unfertilized eggs and fingernails are all life and human. The point of development at which the fertilized egg should be considered a full-fledged person is determined by theology or philosophy, not science. But those who say a day-old embryo is as much a person as a 3-year-old must explain why we freeze embryos and not toddlers. They should explain why fertility clinics are allowed to throw out many thousands of unused embryos every year.

On the matter of pregnancies caused by rape, even staunch foes of abortion may leave a bit of weasel room. Like Akin, Republicans in the Indiana House opposed an exception for rape on the basis that women wanting an abortion would lie about having been forced. Indiana State Rep. Eric Turner called it a "giant loophole." If Turner was implying that abortions would be permissible if a rape could be fully proved, he too was not being coherent. For those who truly walk the walk, the circumstances behind the conception should not matter.

We who support a basic right to abortion don't have to engage in complex arguments over how a woman got pregnant. We don't have to distinguish between forcible rape, date rape or false claims of rape. We don't have to get into whether the man drugged the woman before sex -- or she drugged herself -- or whether a woman wrongly assumed she was at the point in her menstrual cycle when she couldn't get pregnant. We don't have to consider that a couple in a fit of passion got careless. Not having to know these things is ironically something we have in common with uncompromising opponents of abortion.

In an ideal world, anyone who isn't ready for parenthood would take the necessary precautions. That's not the world we live in. I don't think 15-year-olds should have to become single mothers in the ninth grade.

In recent years, Republicans have moved their "pro-life" disapprovals perilously close to birth control. I buy Akin's explanation that he misspoke when he put the word "legitimate" in front of "rape." But that kind of slip reminds one of the party's obsession with women's sexuality in general.

Republican leaders intent on making the election about the economy don't want to get into this discussion, but here it is.

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