All eyes are turning to the GOP and its position on abortion and emergency contraception (EC) after Congressman Todd Akin’s (R-MO) remarks about “legitimate rape.” For his part, Rep. Akin opposes the “morning-after” pill. On August 8, 2012, he told a Kansas radio station:
““As far as I’m concerned, the morning-after pill is a form of abortion, and I think we just shouldn’t have abortion in this country.” Greg Knapp, the radio host, asked again: “So just to be clear, though, you would like to ban the morning-after, totally for everyone?”
“Yeah,” Akin said. “I think that’s a form of abortion, and I don’t support it.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, Rep. Akin’s opponent for U.S. Senate in Missouri, responded to Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments with support for EC:
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“My experience in working with hundreds of rape victims, and holding their hands and crying with them, is that the morning after pill is such a sense of security for them that there will be no pregnancy as a result of what is the most horrific and traumatic experience that they will ever have in their life. I want to hold on to their ability to take the morning after pill, so I do think that it’s worth the conversation and the debate on that issue.”
Although almost every prominent member of the GOP has condemned Rep. Akin’s “legitimate rape” statement, the GOP platform committee did not amend language from the 2004 and 2008 GOP platforms, which “assert the sanctity of human life,” and provide no exceptions to abortion in any case whatsoever. But the committee did add language opposing drugs such as mifepristone. Members agreed, however, that this platform amendment did not apply to EC.
Mary Summa, a delegate from North Carolina, introduced a plank that asked the FDA not to approve drugs that terminate pregnancies. She said, “We oppose approval of these drugs and similar drugs that terminate innocent human life after conception.”
The committee’s youngest member by a decade, 22-year-old Jackie Curtiss from Alabama, sought clarification that the amendment would not obstruct access to EC. She stated, “In light of the recent comments by Congressman Todd Akin, and in an attempt to reaffirm to the American people the party’s sensitivity on the subject of rape, I believe that we should not support an amendment which opposes approval of a method that’s been proven effective in preventing the pregnancy of rape victims.” The amendment passed after other committee members ensured that the resolution would not affect the “morning-after” pill.
Despite the novelty of the GOP platform committee amendment, opposition to drugs such as mifepristone is a continuation of previous GOP efforts to prevent the FDA from approving such drugs. In 1999, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), the GOP vice-presidential nominee, voted yes on the “Prohibition of Chemically Induced Abortion Amendment,” which denied funding to the FDA for the testing, development, or approval for any drug that chemically induces abortion. The amendment passed in the House but was blocked in the Senate.
The proposed 2012 GOP platform, to be published next week, reiterates advocacy for a human life amendment in identical language to the 2004/2008 platform: “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.” This language does not provide exceptions for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother.
Even though the GOP platform does not specify when human life begins, in 2011, both Ryan and Akin co-sponsored H.R. 212 “Sanctity of Human Life Act,” which states, “Each human life begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent, at which time every human has all legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood.” H.R. 212 was referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution in January 2011 and has not progressed further since then.
According to his website, Mitt Romney, who describes himself as “pro-life,” also “believes that life begins at conception and wishes that the laws of our nation reflected that view.” Romney has referred to EC pills as “abortive pills” and “abortifacients” on numerous occasions.
But he concedes that “while the nation remains so divided” on when life begins, the “next step” to limit abortion is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Romney’s website does not provide exceptions to anti-abortion laws in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother. After Akin’s comments, however, the Romney-Ryan campaign stated: “Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.”
This assertion directly contradicts Ryan’s views on abortion, which he supports banning in all cases, except when abortion is required to save the life of the mother. Ryan is, however, inconsistent on that point because he also opposes partial-birth abortions. But in an August 22nd statement, Rep. Ryan says he is “comfortable” with Romney’s position:
“I’m proud of my pro-life record. And I stand by my pro-life record in Congress. But Mitt Romney is the top of the ticket and Mitt Romney will be president and he will set the policy of the Romney administration. His policy is exceptions for rape incest and life of the mother. I’m comfortable with it because it’s a good step in the right direction.”
Although Romney now claims he would support exceptions to abortion in cases of rape or incest, it is unlikely that his new-found views will spur any change in the GOP’s official platform. In 2008, Senator John McCain tried to amend the platform’s language to include exceptions to rape, incest, and to protect the life of the mother, but his requests were ignored by the platform committee, which is known for being more conservative than some of its party’s members.
The Democratic National Committee quickly pointed out that the official GOP platform included an “Akin plank.” Romney’s campaign rebutted that it was not uncommon for the nominee to contrast his views with the official party platform. Indeed, Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell, chairman of the platform committee asserted, “We have a general plank in there that affirms our belief in the God-given right to life and that governments are instituted to protect that. The specifics are largely left up to the states.”