Video of the Day: 'Forcible Rape' and Paul Ryan's Akin Problem

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The Republican vice-presidential candidate gets grilled about language in a bill he co-sponsored that would have restricted abortion access to only certain kinds of rape victims.

Todd Akin's comments about "legitimate rape" leading to women's bodies to "shut down" and block conception were problematic for two reasons. The one that's received Akin's pseudoscience. There's simply no scientific evidence to suggest that rape is significantly less likely to lead to pregnancy than consensual sex. That's an embarrassing theory that's also been touted by others in the GOP -- including Mitt Romney's 2007 surrogate, Dr. John Willke, a leading proponent of the idea.

But the other problem, clearly, was the whole idea of a "legitimate rape," and not just because of the squirm-inducing phrasing. What Akin was trying to do was differentiate between "forcible rape" and other categories of rape -- such as statutory (child or teen) rape -- which many anti-abortion activists argue don't deserve to be included in the rape exceptions to abortion bans. That's where things get dicey for many Republicans, who are at odds with public opinion. Keep that in mind while watching this video of Paul Ryan being interviewed by KDKA, a local CBS affiliate in Pittsburgh:

RYAN: His statements were outrageous, over the pale [sic] .... Rape is rape, period, end of story.

KDKA: Should abortion be available to women who are raped?

RYAN: Look, I'm proud of my pro-life record, and I stand by my pro-life record in Congress. It's something I'm proud of. But Mitt Romney is the top of the ticket, and Mitt Romney will be president, and he will set the policy of the Romney administration.

Romney says he favors rape exceptions in abortion bans. But reading between the lines, Ryan is saying that, no, he does not believe abortion should be available to women who are raped. That's the same as Akin's position; it's also the same as the plank adopted by the Republican Party platform committee in Tampa on Tuesday, which commits to seeking to ban all abortions with no exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother. (The plank still has to pass the full convention, but it's expected to do so). Only 17 percent of Americans agree that there should never be exception, according to a recent Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Akin's statement is politically dangerous to the GOP not because his view is out of line with the anti-abortion wing of the party; it's dangerous because he drew so much attention to the belief with his inartful turn of phrase.

You can see Ryan's tightrope walk later in the interview. In Congress, Ryan co-sponsored (along with Akin) a bill that banned abortion even in case of rape, "unless the pregnancy is the result of an act of forcible rape or incest." The National Right to Life Committee gives him a higher score than Akin as an anti-abortion stalwart. KDKA also asked him about differences in types of rape:

RYAN: Rape is rape, period, end of story.

KDKA: So that forcible rape language meant nothing to you at the time?

RYAN: Rape is rape, and there's no splitting hairs over rape.

Ryan's repudiation here of his own prior position helps explain why members of the House are infrequent vice-presidential nominees. Their paper trails makes it easy for opponents to trip them up. Ryan seems reluctant to flatly disavow his earlier stance, but he also doesn't welcome a conversation about whether he considers marital or statutory rape, for example, to be categories of sexual abuse where the mercy of abortion law exemptions should apply.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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