Republicans were in full damage control mode on Sunday night, as they sought to mitigate the damage caused by the “legitimate rape” comments of Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo.
On a St. Louis talk show, Akin, who is seeking the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Claire McCaskill, R-Mo., said that he opposed abortion in all cases, including in cases of rape and incest, because in cases of “legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” The statement drew outrage from across the aisle, including from one of Akin’s primary opponents.
“Todd Akin’s remarks about ‘legitimate rape’ were inexcusable, insulting and embarrassing to the GOP,” said former Missouri State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who lost to Akin in the primary.
Other Republican senate candidates, including Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., and Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., also criticized Akin.
The comments were not merely motivated by outrage over the statement. McKaskill’s Missouri seat was considered one of the most likely pick-ups for Republicans in a closely-fought battle for control of the U.S. Senate. If Akin loses, it makes the task of taking control of the upper house significantly more difficult for the GOP.
Ryan, Akin Partnered to Redefine Rape
The campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney also tried to distance itself from the comments on Sunday night, but their attempts were complicated by the history of Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who partnered with Akin on a measure that would have redefined rape at the federal level.
“Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape,” said campaign spokesperson Amanda Henneberg in a statement.
The position articulated by the Romney-Ryan campaign was at odds with the previously-stated position of Ryan, who has been opposed to abortion in all cases, including rape and incest. It also brought up a reminder that Ryan, like Akin, sought to redefine the rape exception to the federal ban on abortion funding so that it only covers “forcible rape.”
Both Akin and Ryan co-sponsored H.R. 3, which would have barred federal funding of abortion in cases of statutory and acquaintance rape. The bill passed through the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, but died in the Senate.
Akin: I “Misspoke”
Akin, perhaps sensing that his campaign was in jeopardy, said in a statement on Sunday that he “misspoke,” but stopped short of apologizing.
“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,” Akin said. He did not clarify what, exactly, he misspoke about.
Akin did add, “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.”
However, Akin did not waver in his opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest.
“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,” Akin said.
Image Credit: K. Sawyer Photography