Republican 'war on women' in the spotlight

 

REPRESENTATIVE TODD Akin from Missouri, who asserted in a television interview on Sunday that women do not get pregnant in the case of “legitimate rape”, yesterday refused to drop out of a US Senate race which the Republican Party desperately wants to win.

Akin told Mike Huckabee of Fox News that his supporters wanted him to stay in the contest. “We are going to continue this race for the US Senate,” he said.

Akin also broadcast a new advertisement entitled Forgiveness in which he says: “Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologise.”

The advertisement was part of a $150,000 (€120,000) new purchase of air time, a further indication of Akin’s determination to stay in the race.

Almost the entire Republican leadership asked Akin to step down before a 5pm deadline yesterday, after which Missouri laws would prevent the party from easily naming a replacement. The party chairman disinvited Akin from next week’s Republican convention in Tampa, Florida.

CNN talkshow host Piers Morgan described him as a “gutless little twerp” after Akin cancelled a scheduled appearance on Monday night.

After an initially timid statement of “disagreement” with Akin, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney grew more forceful in his condemnation late on Monday, calling Akin’s comments “deeply offensive” and last night called on him to withdraw from the Senate race.

Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan phoned Akin to ask him to withdraw. The two men last year co-sponsored a “personhood” Bill, which would have given foetuses the same rights as all US citizens from the moment of conception.

By reviving Democratic rhetoric about the Republicans’ “war on women”, the Akin scandal represents a serious threat to the Romney-Ryan ticket. Their campaign has buried its head in the sand, proclaiming that women care about jobs and the economy more than social issues.

Women comprised 53 per cent of the electorate in the 2008 race, when US president Barack Obama won 13 per cent more women’s votes than John McCain. Obama looks set to win a far greater margin over Romney. An ABC News/Washington Post poll this month found that 58 per cent of women hold a favourable opinion of Obama, compared to only 36 per cent for Romney.

“Akin will become the left’s wedge to drive the gender gap wider to help Democrats and ultimately Obama in Missouri and nationally,” Bryan Preston predicted on the conservative website PJMedia.

Doctors dismiss Akin’s claim that women who are raped do not usually get pregnant as absurd, but it is a commonly held view among anti-abortion activists. Several state lawmakers and even a federal judge have expressed the same belief.

The implication of Akin’s statement was that if a woman gets pregnant, she wasn’t really raped. “Akin’s assertion about ‘legitimate’ rape is really nothing but an attempt to blame the victim,” Eugene Robinson wrote in the Washington Post. “It stems from the view that the only true victim is a woman who is raped while violently resisting a ski-masked assailant who came in through the bedroom window.”

Romney spent most of last week attempting to paper over differences between himself and Ryan over Medicare. Now the middle-of-the-road candidate and his more conservative running mate are attempting to reconcile different positions on abortion.

The Republican Party platform in 2004, 2008 and now 2012 states opposition to abortion in all cases, including rape and incest. In all three election years, the Republican presidential candidate advocated exceptions to the rule.

A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation this summer found that 55 per cent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 42 per cent who said it should be illegal. Only 17 per cent said it should be illegal in all cases, the position of Akin and Ryan.

Democrats “are going to take all the opposition research they’ve done on Ryan and women and start unleashing it now because of this”, Nancy Dwight, a former Republican official who supports abortion rights, told Bloomberg.

Ryan has cast 59 votes on abortion and other reproductive rights issues during his 13 years as a congressman. He co-sponsored a measure demanding that women undergo an ultrasound before an abortion. His budget plan would end all federal funding for Planned Parenthood and Title X, the national family planning programme. Planned Parenthood provides hundreds of thousands of poor American women with screening for breast and cervical cancer, and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Romney and Ryan supported legislation last winter that would have allowed employers to remove contraception from healthcare insurance for female employees. Ryan has compared the 1973 Roe v Wade US supreme court decision that legalised abortion to the 1857 Dred Scott case that upheld slavery.

On the broader issue of gender equality, Ryan was one of 209 Republicans who voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009. According to the National Women’s Law Centre, US women earn 78 cents for every dollar paid to men; 69 cents if they are black and 59 cents if they are Hispanic.