Akin's comments about 'legitimate rape' attract more national attention to U.S. Senate contest
Republican U.S. Senate nominee Todd Akin — already collecting headlines over his comments against emergency contraception and federal funding of school lunches, as well as earlier stances questioning Medicare, Social Security and federal student loans — is back in the news over his opposition to abortion in cases of rape.
In particular, Akin has attracted attention over his assertion that "a legitimate rape" rarely results in a pregnancy.
"First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare," Akin told KTVI-TV reporter Charles Jaco in an interview broadcast Sunday. "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
"Let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something," Akin continued. "I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
Akin’s observation touched off a frenzy of Sunday traffic on Twitter, was picked up by national news outlets like the Washington Post — and swiftly drew a condemnation from his Democratic rival, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.
"It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape," said McCaskill, who noted that she is a former Jackson County prosecutor who had handled "hundreds of rape cases."
"The ideas that Todd Akin has expressed about the serious crime of rape and the impact on its victims are offensive," McCaskill said.
The Republican presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan also weighed in: "Gov. Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin's statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape," Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg wrote.
And Twitter was even filled with unsubstantiated speculation that some national Republicans might pressure Akin to withdraw as a candidate.
Akin seeks to clarify statement
Akin’s campaign later issued a statement that said he "misspoke," but it didn’t stipulate which part of Akin’s comment was being disavowed. The statement did make clear that he still opposed abortion in cases of rape.
"In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year," Akin said in the statement. "Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve."
The statement then continued, “I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action. I also recognize that there are those who, like my opponent, support abortion and I understand I may not have their support in this election.”
Those who know Akin well doubt that he will be swayed much by any additional national pressure or criticism, even if from prominent Republicans.
In Missouri, for example, all the major Republican operatives were working for Akin's two primary rivals — former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and St. Louis businessman John Brunner. Those interviewed privately have said that Akin — who prizes loyalty — isn't expected to take any advice, paid or unpaid, from any of them now.
Early on, Akin had fired some national GOP operatives hired for his primary campaign and has relied largely on family and longtime allies. His son, Perry Akin, had taken a leave from a corporate executive post to be his father's campaign manager for much of his primary effort, and Akin told the Beacon last week that he planned to retain Perry in that role.
Paul Ryan, by the way, had been effusive in his compliments of Akin a few months back — so much so that Ryan had to correct impressions that his praise amounted to an endorsement.
Ryan and Akin also share opposition to abortion. The two had been co-sponsors in 2011 of legislation, called the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," which at one point would have barred any federal Medicaid money — which can be used for abortions in cases of rape — from being spent on any abortion deemed not "forcible rape."
Latest in series of controversies
Sunday’s TV interview capped a series of Akin's well-publicized comments on a variety of issues since he won the Republican primary Aug. 7.
First, he made news with a radio interview in Kansas City in which Akin said he wanted to outlaw emergency contraception, also known as the "morning-after pill," because it prevents contraception if taken a few days after unprotected sex. The "morning-after pill" does not affect an established pregnancy.
Akin sides with anti-abortion groups who say the medication amounts to an early abortion because it can prevent implantation of a fertilized embryo. Health-care providers say the pills act the same as an IUD, which is a legal form of birth control.
Then on Thursday, Akin touched off a media frenzy — and several disparaging editorials — when he told reporters at the Missouri State Fair that he opposed the federal school lunch program and thought the matter should be handled at the state level. Records show Akin has voted against the federal program several times during his 12-year tenure in Congress.
"There's another good question of who should be doing that,” Akin had told reporters. “Is that something the federal government should be doing? I answer it 'no.' I think the federal government should be out of the education business.”
Said McCaskill's spokesman Erik Dorey: "More than half of Missouri's students rely on school meal programs in some way, and it just goes to show how far Todd Akin is out of the mainstream that he would eliminate this program that helps make sure kids have the healthy meals they need to get through the day."
Those critical of his school-lunch comments also included some farmers, since some of the federal school-lunch help is surplus commodities — such as cheese — that the government purchases from farmers.
Akin’s campaign later issued a statement saying that he wasn’t against school lunches, just the federal government’s role. Akin made the same point in his interview with Jaco, saying that his chief point was that the federal government has trillions of dollars in debt and needs to reduce its role in such programs.
Senate race key in national struggle
The attention to Akin's latest comments — as well as his earlier observations about Social Security, Medicare and the 17th Amendment — reflect, in part, the significance of Missouri's U.S. Senate contest. Republicans acknowledge that McCaskill's defeat is key to their quest to take control of the U.S. Senate, while Democrats see her survival as key to their fight to remain in the Senate majority.
Akin is the linchpin to both efforts. Representatives of the National Republican Senatorial Committee have been in Missouri to consult with Akin, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee already has been running TV ads attacking him.
Akin asserted in Sunday's statement that Democrats are seeking to distract the public from other issues.
"We’ve had 42 straight months of unacceptably high unemployment, trillion-dollar deficits and Democratic leaders in Washington who are focused on growing government, instead of jobs," his statement said. "That is my primary focus in this campaign, and while there are those who want to distract from that, knowing they cannot defend the Democrats' failed economic record of the last four years, that will continue to be my focus in the months ahead."
When asked in general about the string of recent controversies over Akin's comments, his campaign spokesman said, "This is going to be a very competitive, high-level race and there's going to be a lot of attention drawn to both candidates."