Akin Remarks Latest Example of GOP Drawing a Line on Rape

Meghan McCarthy
National Journal

Tea party member and Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin sparked a controversy on Sunday when he struggled to explain if abortion should be legal if the pregnant woman had been raped. But it wasn't the first time such remarks have initiated a national discussion over pregnancies resulting from rape.

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin told KTVI-TV host Charles Jaco. “But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

His comments immediately drew condemnation from his rival, incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and even earned Akin a trending hashtag on Twitter.

But soon after taking the House in 2011, Republicans were forced to respond to a similar media frenzy over abortion and pregnancies resulting from rape. The House was getting ready to consider a bill from Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., that originally narrowed the definition of rape to only include “forcible rape,” excluding women in statutory rape cases, among others.

That is important, because the federal government traditionally covers abortion procedures for women in government programs like Medicaid only in the case of rape, incest, or if the mother could die as a result of the pregnancy. The thinking of some pro-life groups is that those exceptions make it too easy for some women to get abortions on the government’s dime.

For example, a poor 16-year-old who is on Medicaid, under the age of consent, and pregnant can use Medicaid funding for an abortion, since the intercourse was technically a statutory rape.

But government funding for abortions in these circumstances are rare. In 2006, 191 abortions were covered with federal funds for women with pregnancies that could prove fatal or were the result of rape and/or incest.

After a skewering in the media (including The Daily Show With Jon Stewart), Republican leaders quietly removed that provision from the bill in February. Three months later, the House passed the legislation 251 to 175.

At the state level, socially conservative Republican lawmakers in North Carolina and Pennsylvania have made comments similar to Akin's.