Words, Words, Words: How Akin and the GOP Differ on Abortion

There's a reason all of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin's apologies for his "legitimate rape" comments focus on word choice.

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There's a reason all of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin's apologies for his "legitimate rape" comments focus on word choice. While the Republican Party differs with Akin's tone in talking about what kinds of rape are real, and rejects the idea a woman's body will not accept a rapist's sperm, when it comes to policy, the candidate and the party are united.

"I was talking about forcible rape and it was absolutely the wrong word," Akin told Mike Huckabee in a radio interview Monday. When making his case for staying in the race to Fox News' Sean Hannity, Akin said, "I think that strong voting record and that record that is the exact opposite of [opponent Sen. Claire McCaskill's] -- the question is, does that overcome, you know, the question of people that are upset over one word spoken in one day in one sentence?" Akin said many people believe in forgiveness, and emphasized, "I made a single error in one sentence." In his apology ad, Akin says, "I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologize." Yes, Akin is sorry, but he's sorry for his style, not his substance.

The Republican Party's official platform committee is working on language that would oppose all abortions, even in the case of rape. It's that position Akin was trying to justify when he got into trouble: He was trying to say that life begins at conception, and the way it was conceived is not the fetus' fault. Akin and the Republican Party not only share this position (legit rape, illegit rape, whatever), they frame that position in exactly the same way. From Akin's official campaign site, he explains why he holds this position on abortion:

Our founders understood that life is a fundamental right granted to us by our Creator and that the government’s role is to protect this right. A government that doesn’t protect innocent life fails at one of its most basic roles. I believe that life begins at conception and I’m appalled that we do not protect the innocent lives of our unborn children.

Just like Akin, the Republican Party frames its opposition to abortion as a principle enshrined in the Constitution, which, obviously, is not what the Supreme Court found in 1973. Here's the proposed abortion language in the platform, obtained by CNN's Peter Hamby:

"Faithful to the 'self-evident' truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed... We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children."

Both Akin and the party oppose federal funding for abortions, and funding of embryonic stem cell research. In The National Review's editorial calling for Akin to quit, they were mostly mad about his style. "Most Republicans who hold the view that unborn children have a right to life regardless of the circumstances of their conception will have the wit to explain themselves in a way that prevents most voters who disagree from vetoing them for that reason," the editors wrote. Akin's biggest problem is not his position, but that he'll probably choose more "wrong words" between now and November, they say. "People who make such remarks on television are typically capable of making more like them, or rather incapable of exercising the judgment to refrain."

The last time there was much debate about the abortion plank was 1996, Human Events' John Gizzi notes. There have been only minor tweaks attempted since. As Hamby points out, in 2008, John McCain wanted the party to adopt a rape exemption, but the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins called it "political suicide." This year, FRC is solidly behind Akin. "He has been elected five times in that community in Missouri," Connie Mackey, head of FRC's PAC, told CNN. "They know who Todd Akin is. We know who Todd Akin is. We've worked with him up on the hill. He's a defender of life." As for the Republicans calling on Akin to quit? Perkins said one of them, Sen. Scott Brown, should watch his back. "He has been off the reservation on a number of Republican issues, conservative issues I should say."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.