Why are we surprised by Rep. Todd Akin’s appalling statement distinguishing which rapes are “legitimate”? Why are we surprised that Akin, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Missouri, thinks that victims of “legitimate rape” don’t get pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down?” And why are we surprised that he wants to outlaw abortion even in the case of rape?
Disgusted? Of course. But surprised? We already had clear evidence of what Akin believes from his record. Just last year, he joined Paul Ryan and more than 200 other House Republicans in co-sponsoring legislation that would have narrowed which types of rape victims could benefit from financial assistance to access abortion services. The bill would have cut off victims who were drugged or threatened, some victims of incest, and victims of statutory rape—victims who, it appears, don’t fall into Akin’s definition of “legitimate” rape victims. As for the belief that women don’t need access to abortion when “legitimately raped” because their bodies will prevent a pregnancy, that’s not just some feverish product of Akin’s mind—it’s a widely held belief in radical anti-choice circles across the country.
What’s more surprising is that Akin, along with Mitt Romney and Ryan, think they can run away from their record and fool the women of this country by offering vague apologies and calculated statements in the wake of a controversy like this. Whether a woman has the ability to make her own health care choices—including in the case of rape—is not something that our elected officials should be changing their positions on to suit the political climate. These are fundamental ethical questions that no person of conscience changes position on lightly. Either you firmly believe in protecting women or you don’t.
Akin at first tried to defuse the controversy by saying he merely “misspoke.” And Romney and Ryan are working overtime to distance themselves from Akin’s remarks. But the records tell a different story: All three have previously gone on record as supporting outlawing all abortions, including in the case of rape, and have taken actions to match.
- As Massachusetts governor, Romney vetoed a bill to guarantee victims of rape access to emergency contraception in hospital emergency rooms.
- Romney has repeatedly endorsed the 2004 and 2008 Republican Party platforms, and has specifically backed the platform’s Human Life Amendment to ban abortion nationwide, which has no exceptions for rape and incest. A similar measure is set to be included in the 2012 platform, to be adopted next week.
- Romney has said that he now has the same positions that he had when he previously ran for president, and said that he would be “delighted” to sign a bill to outlaw ALL abortions.
- In 2011, Ryan co-sponsored a bill that declared a fertilized egg that hasn’t even resulted in a pregnancy to be the equivalent of a living person, with all of the rights of federal law. That bill criminalized all abortion with no exceptions for rape.
Of course, Romney and Ryan have muddied the waters by at times allowing exceptions to their anti-choice stance. But as a wise woman, Lilly Ledbetter, once warned me, we must always look to an elected official’s record, never simply to politically opportune statements. Actions always speak louder than words.
Although we shouldn’t have been surprised by Akin’s awful statement, we must be forewarned that if elected, Romney and Ryan will continue their extreme and dangerous record on women’s health.
Sandra Fluke graduated cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center and has served as president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice. She has endorsed and campaigned for President Obama.