Republican Rep. Todd Akin: open mouth, insert foot?
Last December, when my niece gave birth to her first child, it marked the first baby born into this family since the early 1980s. It was a wonderful and exciting time for the family, and for me personally — no more so than a few months later when I held my niece’s daughter Tiffany in my arms and experienced the sheer joy of watching her giggling and laughing and I talked baby talk to her.
I felt the same way in the spring of 2010, when my colleague at Freeline Media, Dave Raith, had a son named Caden, who is such a good-natured baby. Today, two years later, Caden still lights up with excitement when he sees me, and runs to me with his arms wide open, eager to be picked up.
The joy we feel from these babies is, without a doubt, the strongest argument that the Pro-Life movement has today — the emotional sense of what a terrible tragedy it would have been if these babies had never been born, particularly because of abortion. You pick up the child, and it’s such a great joy to hold them, and to know they’re thrilled you’re going to play with them; and you come to realize, at a deeply emotional level, how much better off this society would be if there were no abortions.
The Pro-Life movement, though, has a major Achilles’ Heel, and that is figuring out how to legislate a “Pro-Life nation.’’ In the days before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision, which declared that abortion was a privacy right for women, states routinely dealt with it simply by criminalizing the procedure.
Four decades of operating under Roe vs. Wade has made that a tough sell, and quite a few anti-abortion activists are all over the map on this one. Should states make it a criminal offense for physicians to perform abortions, but not for the woman who requested it? Should the physician simply lose his license rather than be sent to prison? Should the government ban RU486, also known as Mifepristone, a synthetic steroid compound used as an abortifacient in the first months of pregnancy or as an emergency contraceptive?
For that matter, is regular birth control a form of abortion as well?
As emotional as the poster of a loving newborn child is for the Pro-Life movement, the image of a woman being sent to prison or the government banning forms of contraceptive to protect the unborn are equally power images for the Pro-Choice movement. It’s noteworthy that Pro-Life politicians rarely if ever talk about a legislative solution to abortion, and prefer to focus on their commitment to the unborn — not on what the government can do to legislate abortion out of existence.
Since the majority of the Pro-Life politicians are Republicans, a party that otherwise espouses the concept of “more freedom” from a burdensome government, abortion is a problematic issue for them. Republicans routinely rail about liberal politicians who take aim at soda, cigarettes, guns and even using cell phones while driving — efforts to protect us from ourselves that Republicans decry as a form of the Nanny State gone wild. Still, the need for government to enact protections for the unborn becomes a tip-toe through the tulips issue for conservatives. Clearly, one man’s Big Nanny Government is another man’s strong moral stance.
Nevertheless, Republicans at least have an easy out on this issue: Roe vs. Wade. As long as that ruling stays in effect, there’s not much they can do about the issue except reaffirm their proud Pro-Life credentials on the campaign trail. Beyond the warm and fuzzy display of concern for an unborn fetus, leading Republican politicians shy away from the details of how government could make abortions go away.
President George W. Bush said he didn’t want to change abortion laws until the Pro-Life movement first changed hearts and minds on the issue — a fairly frank admission that banning abortion was a lost cause in a nation so divided on the issue. The party’s 2008 nominee, John McCain, said if the Supreme Court ever overturned Roe vs. Wade, the decision on how to deal with abortion should be left to the states to decide, not the federal government. Considering the likelihood that a bunch of states would write Roe vs. Wade into law, it sounds like a Pro-Choice position to me — if voters want abortion to be legal, so be it.
Mitt Romney, the current GOP nominee, has endorsed a “Human Life” constitutional amendment that would declare a fetus to be a human being fully guaranteed of protection, although predictably it offers few if any details on how that would be handled by the government. And knowing that such an amendment is unlikely to get a two-thirds majority in Congress to be sent to the states makes it the equivalent of proposing a constitutional amendment mandating that poverty disappear tomorrow.
Voters seem to understand this: a similar Human Life measure has been rejected by voters in several states, including Colorado and Mississippi, most likely because nobody understands what the state government would have to do to actually protect the unborn. Since these ballot measures don’t get into those sticky details, it’s kind of left to the imagination — and, you can presume, voters imagine laws they simply don’t want on the books.
So for now, the Pro-Life movement is stuck; legislative solutions are not broadly popular if they include prison terms and contraceptive bans. Those laws would be unconstitutional anyway, as long as Roe vs. Wade stays in effect. So they have to remain focused on one thing: the power of those newborns and how so many of us feel they shouldn’t have been denied the opportunity to be born because of abortion.
But if there’s one thing the movement truly didn’t need, it was a Todd Akin.
The conservative Missouri congressman, who is now the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate, has been in boiling hot water for days, ever since he told a television reporter that he stands behind his opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape, because “legitimate” rape usually doesn’t result in a pregnancy.
“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin said. “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 of the rapist and not attacking the child.”
What does one say to this? Perhaps “Wow” that such ignorance could be uttered in public by someone looking for responsibility in drafting the nation’s laws.
It’s hard to imagine anything more deeply reprehensible than a man who says he fully understands what a woman goes through during rape, and can pretty much determine if it truly was rape or not. Rape as abortion politics? Does this mean that anti-abortion lawmakers would require women seeking an abortion because they got raped to appear before some kind of Pro-Life panel to prove they truly did get sexually assaulted? Would there be questions about what the women was wearing at the time? Hints that she may have flirted with the attacker? Men on the panel saying, “Honey, if I got raped, and I got pregnant, I sure wouldn’t have an abortion!”
It’s no wonder, then, that so many fellow Republicans — many Pro-Lifers included — were horrified at Akin’s comments and are calling on him to resign today as the Senate nominee, the final day for a candidate to withdraw. Even Romney called Akin’s comments “insulting, inexcusable and frankly wrong.” The image of Big Brother hassling rape victims to make sure they’re not faking it simply to get an abortion is not only Big Nanny government on full display, but also a hopeless kamikaze mission for the entire movement. So where exactly is that old “more freedom from government” argument now?
Akin’s position is that even if a child is conceived through rape, the fetus still deserves to live. That’s a very honest and forthright stance for a Pro-Life lawmaker to make. But again, how does one go about legislating that?
There’s no question that a lot of social conservative genuinely like government, because it can be used to regulate social behavior, including on abortion. They may have selected the wrong party, though, since Republicans seem increasingly ready to flirt with a Libertarian-style limited government philosophy than a How quickly can we ban this-and-that approach. Again, Pro-Life Republicans don’t like to talk about the issue in this way, about new laws that make it all illegal. I suspect Democrats will be milking this issue for the next few months, right up until election day.
Akin did something a lot of other Pro-Life activists and politicians typically are fearful of doing: saying that when it comes to abortion, the Feds know best. Bye-bye, Libertarian/small government vote.
No wonder so many Republicans wish he’d simply go away, replaced perhaps with a bland, inoffensive Tea Party conservative who talks vaguely about cutting government spending without specifics on what he would cut, or simply restates how positively pro-business he is. Then once again, the messiness of legislating a Pro-Life nation goes happily away, in a pleasantly hush hush kind of way.

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