During the 2012 United States election cycle, a series of controversies occurred involving comments made by a number of socially conservative Republican candidates regarding issues such asrape, pregnancy, and abortion.
The first and most widely covered controversy during this time surrounded Republican U.S. Representative Todd Akin of Missouri, who commented while running for a Senate seat that pregnancy from rape rarely occurs as a result of what he referred to as "legitimate rape." Akin's comments had a far-reaching political impact, changing a focus of campaigns across the country onto the so-called "War on Women."
Following Akin's comments, there were additional controversies surrounding comments made by other socially conservative Republican candidates. The most notable of these was Indiana State Treasurer and Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who said that pregnancy from rape was "something that God intended", triggering a nationwide controversy nearly on the scale of that resulting from Akin's comments.
Both Mourdock's and Akin's comments are widely credited for being the primary reason behind each of their defeats. The comments are also credited for having a larger national effect.
Todd Akin and "legitimate rape"
While making remarks on rape and abortion on August 19, 2012, Todd Akin, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Missouri's 2nd congressional district, candidate in the2012 U.S. Senate elections in Missouri, and long-time anti-abortion advocate, made the claim that victims of what he described as "legitimate rape" rarely experience pregnancy from rape. In an interview aired on St. Louis television station KTVI-TV, Todd Akin was asked whether women who became pregnant due to rape should have the option of abortion. He replied:
Well you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. 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 on the rapist and not attacking the child.
The comments from Akin almost immediately led to uproar, with the term "legitimate rape" being taken to imply belief that some types of rape are "legitimate", or alternatively that the many victims who do become pregnant from rape are likely to be lying about their claim. His claims about the likelihood of pregnancy resulting from rape were widely seen as being based on long-discredited pseudoscience with experts seeing the claims as lacking any basis of medical validity. Akin was not the first to make such claims, but was perhaps one of the most prominent. While some voices such as Iowa congressman Steve King supported Akin, senior figures in both parties condemned his remarks and some Democrats and Republicans called for him to resign and/or drop out of his Senate race. Akin apologized after making the comment, saying he "misspoke", and he stated he planned to remain in the Senate race. This response was itself attacked by many commentators[who?] who saw the initial comments as representative of his long-held views, rather than an accidental gaffe.
The comment was widely characterized as misogynistic and recklessly inaccurate, with many commentators remarking on the use of the words "legitimate rape". Related news articles cited a 1996 article in an obstetrics and gynecology journal, which found that 5% of women who were raped became pregnant, which equaled about 32,000 pregnancies each year in the US alone. A separate 2003 article in the journal Human Nature estimated that rapes are twice as likely to result in pregnancies as consensual sex.
The incident was seen as having an impact on Akin's senate race and the Republicans' chances of gaining a majority in the U.S. Senate, by making news in the week before the 2012 Republican National Convention and by "shift[ing] the national discussion to divisive social issues that could repel swing voters rather than economic issues that could attract them". Akin, along with other Republican candidates with controversial positions on rape, lost due to backlash from women voters.
Akin responded to the comments by first issuing a press release stating:
As a member of Congress, I believe that working to protect the most vulnerable in our society is one of my most important responsibilities, and that includes protecting both the unborn and victims of sexual assault. 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. 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.
And then by airing a commercial in which he said:
Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize. As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault, and I pray for them. The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The truth is, rape has many victims. The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.
In relation to the resulting furor over his original "legitimate rape" comment, Akin was quoted as saying:
I talk about one word, one sentence, one day out of place, and, all of a sudden, the entire establishment turns on you.
Akin is a long time pro-life activist who has served on the board of Missouri Right to Life, participated in and been arrested as part of anti-abortion demonstrations in Missouri and Illinois as far back as 1985, and sponsored or co-sponsored three anti-abortion bills in the House. Specifically, he cosponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act which would have conferred full legal personhood on embryos beginning at fertilization or cloning. He was also an original cosponsor of bills recognizing only "forcible" rape to narrow access to federal funding for abortions. Under the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, as introduced, "victims of statutory rape ... would be on their own. So would victims of incest if they’re over 18. And ... 'forcible rape' ... seems certain to exclude ... cases where a woman is drugged or has a limited mental capacity."
Akin's August 2012 comments are based on pseudoscientific claims that have been rejected by reproductive health experts. The current scientific consensus is that rape is no less likely to lead to pregnancy than consensual intercourse. Opponents of abortion have claimed that women have a biological reaction to rape that makes rape victims unlikely to get pregnant, but these claims have been roundly dismissed by professors of obstetrics at Harvard Medical School and the University of North Carolina.
Akin's remarks were strongly condemned by some Republicans. The party's presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, said they were "inexcusable, insulting, and frankly, wrong." and called for Akin to step down, as did Paul Ryan, Romney's vice presidential nominee. The National Republican Senatorial Committee said that "if he continues with this misguided campaign, it will be without the support and resources of the NRSC." Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Akin's remarks were "totally inexcusable" and "wildly offensive". Conservative commentatorsSean Hannity, Charles Krauthammer, and Mark Levin all called for Akin to step aside, as did the editorial teams of the Wall Street Journal and National Review, and nine sitting US Senators, along with all four former Republican Missouri Senators: John Danforth, Kit Bond, James Talent and John Ashcroft and also serving Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt. Fellow Republican Congressmen and Senate hopefuls Jeff Flake and Denny Rehberg further added their names to those calling for his resignation. Republican super PAC American Crossroadsannounced it would be cutting off all aid to Akin's candidacy.
There were multiple calls from Republicans for him to step down as nominee. The Washington Post reported a "stampede" of Republicans dissociating from Akin as part of damage control, withNRSC chairman John Cornyn saying the GOP would no longer provide him Senate election funding and describing Akin as "endangering Republicans’ hopes of retaking the majority in the Senate". A campaign spokesman for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan said both candidates disagreed with Akin's position and would not oppose abortion in instances of rape. Ryan reportedly called Akin to advise him to step aside. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus warned Akin not to attend the upcoming 2012 Republican convention and said he should resign the nomination. He described Akin's comments as "biologically stupid" and "bizarre" and said that "This is not mainstream talk that he's referring to and his descriptions of whatever an illegitimate rape is. We're hoping he hears [these calls to drop out of the race]". Mike Huckabee, however, supported Akin by soliciting donations for his Senate campaign and accusing the "Republican establishment" of a "carefully orchestrated and systematic attack."
Akin was defended by some social conservative organizations, including the Family Research Council. A spokesman for the Council said that "We feel this is a case of gotcha politics... We know who Todd Akin is. We've worked with him up on the hill. He's a defender of life." A representative of the American Family Association cited Willke's 1999 article to argue Akin "was exactly right". In response to Republican demands that Akin resign, Personhood USA spokeswoman Jennifer Mason said that Akin's position "is an integral part of the Republican Party platform, the same position that was held by President Ronald Reagan" and that "[we] are left with Reagan Republicans, who agree with the Republican Party platform on abortion, and Romney Republicans, a fringe group of liberals who compromise on human life." President Barack Obama responded to Akin's comments by saying "Rape is rape....And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we're talking about doesn't make sense to the American people and certainly doesn't make sense to me."
Akin gave two radio interviews in which he stated that he was in the race to win. On The Sean Hannity Show, he stated "I was told that there is a decision has to be made by 5 o'clock tomorrow but I was calling you and letting you know that I'm announcing today that we're [staying] in." On the Mike Huckabee show he stated, "Rape is never legitimate... I used the wrong words in the wrong way." A national poll conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion showed that 84% of Americans disagreed with Akin's comments about "legitimate rape", and that 63% wanted him to drop out of the U.S. Senate race.
The comments were widely thought to be the key reason why Akin lost the senatorial race. A poll released August 23 by Rasmussen Reports showed a steep drop in support for Akin among Missouri voters with McCaskill leading Akin in this poll by roughly 10 points in a sharp reversal of Akin's earlier lead. Akin's comments sparked a renewed focus on the so-called Republican "War on Women". Political analysts have pointed out Akin's cosponsorship of anti-abortion bills with vice presidential candidate Ryan and the Obama campaign "attempt[ed] to link the Wisconsin lawmaker to controversial remarks Akin made about about rape." Businessweek stated that the incident will draw attention to the fact that the national platform of the GOP "allow[s] no exception for terminating pregnancies caused by rape."
According to Charles Babington of the Associated Press, the incident highlighted the long-running tension between the "business-oriented fiscal conservatives" and the "social conservatives, who play big roles in swing states". According to Babington, social conservatives were angered by the criticism directed at Akin by "establishment" Republicans such as Mitt Romney. In the wake of Romney's and other Republican leaders calls for Akin to quit the senate race, socially conservative Republican Mike Huckabee, for example, called the National Republican Senatorial Committee"union goons."
Richard Mourdock: pregnancy from rape is "something that God intended"
Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R
Richard Mourdock, the current Indiana State Treasurer and 2012 Republican Senate candidate, became embroiled in a controversy after stating that pregnancy from rape is "something that God intended". His remarks were made during a debate on October 23, 2012 while explaining his opposition to abortion even in the case of rape. At the debate Mourdock, when asked what his position on abortion was, responded:
I know there are some who disagree and I respect their point of view but I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother. I just struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize: Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.
The comments contributed in Mourdock's loss to Rep. Joe Donnelly and multiple sources noted the similarities with the Akin controversy.
Responding to the criticism, Mourdock issued a statement saying "God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does. Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick." He was later quoted at a press conference saying "I believe God controls the universe. I don't believe biology works in an uncontrolled fashion." He however refused to issue an apology, even while prominent Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, called for him to issue an apology.
A day before the controversy started, a television ad began airing that showed Governor Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for United States President, supporting Mourdock. The Romney campaign subsequently issued a statement saying "Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock’s comments, and they do not reflect his views," but did not pull the ad. Senator John Cornynchairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee said "Richard and I, along with millions of Americans -- including even Joe Donnelly -- believe that life is a gift from God. To try and construe his words as anything other than a restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous."
Many Republicans publicly called for Murdock to apologize for the statement. Sen. John McCain called for him to issue an apology and his support "depends on what he does." Senator Scott Brown refused to state that he supported Mourdock in the election. Rep. Mike Pence, a Republican who is now running for governor, urged Mr. Mourdock to apologize. “I strongly disagree with the statement made by Richard Mourdock during last night’s Senate debate,” he said in a statement. “I urge him to apologize.”
President Obama stated that "Rape is rape. It is a crime," on the Tonight Show. He continued that, "These various distinctions about rape don't make too much sense to me." Dan Parker, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party immediately criticized Mourdock, saying: "I'm stunned and ashamed that Richard Mourdock believes God intended rape", and claiming that he is an "extremist" who is out of touch with Indiana.
Other comments on rape and pregnancy
Representative Steve King came to the defense of Rep. Todd Akin, calling the 'legitimate rape' controversy "petty personal attacks". King is a political ally of Akin who also supports the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which would ban federal funding of abortions except in cases of what the bill calls "forcible rape". This would remove the coverage from Medicaid that covers abortions for victims of statutory rape or incest. In an interview with a local TV Station, King denied ever personally hearing about anyone getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest, saying: “Well I just haven’t heard of that being a circumstance that’s been brought to me in any personal way, and I’d be open to discussion about that subject matter.” Multiple sources commented on the similarities with Akin's remarks. The comment produced condemnation from multiple sources.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a ten-term Republican Congressman from Maryland was asked to clarify his position on abortion. The exchange was:
Bartlett: Oh, life of the mother – exception of life of the mother, rape and incest. Yeah, I’ve always -- that’s a mantra, you know, I’ve said it so often it just spills out. If you really -- there are very few pregnancies as a result of rape, fortunately, and incest --- compared to the usual abortion, what is the percentage of abortions for rape? It is tiny. It is a tiny, tiny percentage.
Audience member: There’s 20,000 pregnancies every year from rape.
Bartlett: Yeah, and how many abortions? In the millions,” said Bartlett.
Another audience member: That’s 20,000 rapes. That’s 20,000 people who are violated.
Bartlett: Yeah, I know, I know. But in terms of the percentage of pregnancies, percentage of abortions for rape as compared to overall abortions, it’s a tiny, tiny percentage.
Audience member: And incest is quite high too, believe me. In Appalachia we saw incest on a daily basis
Bartlett: Oh yeah, but again, it’s a tragedy for the family and the person, but in terms of actual numbers it’s a pretty small percentage of the total number.
Audience member: Unless you’re the one.
Bartlett: Most abortions, most abortions are for what purpose? The just don’t want to have a baby! The second reason for abortion is you’d like a boy and it’s a girl, or vice versa. And I know a lot of people are opposed to abortion who are pro-choice.
Multiple sources equated the comment to Akin's comment and it resulted on with political attacks on Bartlett. The comment caused the Democratic Congressional Committee Campaign to target Bartlett with automated phone calls by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that stated, “Republicans like your Congressman Roscoe Bartlett share some of these radical, right-wing beliefs – that the government should take away a woman’s access to making informed decisions about her own pregnancy,” Bartlett lost his bid for re-election in 2012 to the Democratic challenger John Delaney.
State Representative Tom Smith (R
Following Todd Akin's comments, Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Tom Smith was asked on August 27, 2012 by the Pennsylvania Press Club, with regard to his no-exceptions anti-abortion stance, how he would tell a daughter or granddaughter who had been raped that she had to keep the pregnancy. Smith stated that he had been in a similar situation because his relative had become pregnant out of wedlock. Smith attempted to walk back his statement, saying that he was not equating the two situations, but that "a father's position" was similar. The comments were again compared to Akin's comments.Salon magazine commented, "If you believe pregnancy from rape and pregnancy from sex out of marriage are “similar,” then you implicitly believe that the problem with rape is that it’s non-sanctioned sexual activity, as opposed to a crime against a woman’s person."
State Rep. Jim Buchy (R-OH) gave an interview with Al Jazeera. The reporter asked Buchy why he thinks some women may want to have an abortion. He stated, "Well, there’s probably a lot of — I’m not a woman so I’m thinking, if I’m a woman, why would I want to get — some of it has to do with economics. A lot has to do with economics. I don’t know, I have never — It’s a question I have never thought about." These comments were picked up nationally, including by the Rachel Maddow Show.
Roger Rivard: "Some girls rape easy"
Wisconsin State Assembly member Roger Rivard became the subject of controversy in October 2012 due to comments he had made to The Chetek Alert in December 2011. In the interview, Rivard was discussing the case of a high school senior who was being prosecuted for the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl. Rivard remarked that years ago, his father warned him that, "Some girls rape easy". Rivard stated in October 2012 to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the remark was being taken out-of-context and misquoted, and that what his father had told him was that, after agreeing to sex and becoming pregnant, some underage girls will claim it was not consensual.
Following the widespread dissemination of the remark, a number of prominent Wisconsin Republicans withdrew their prior endorsements of Rivard, including vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, Governor Scott Walker and State Representative Robin Vos, who is in charge of Assembly campaign efforts. As of October 12, the Washburn County Republican Party was planning on holding a rally for Rivard and other Republican candidates.
During a debate the Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon from Connecticut was asked about her comments that Catholic-run hospitals should be allowed to deny emergency contraception to rape victims. McMahon responded that, "It was really an issue about a Catholic church being forced to offer those pills if the person came in in an emergency rape. That was my response to it. I absolutely think that we should avail women who come in with rape victims the opportunity to have those morning after pills or the treatment that they should get." The use of "emergency rape" was proved controversial and was commented on by a wide range of sources.
John Koster and "the rape thing"
John Koster, a Republican congressional candidate in the state of Washington's 1st District, stated on October 28, 2012, that he believes that "the rape thing" is not a good enough reason for a woman to have an abortion. When at a campaign fundraiser and asked if he supports abortion rights in some situations, Koster replied that he only supports abortion in cases where a woman's life is in danger. He stated, "Incest is so rare, I mean, it's so rare...But the rape thing-- you know, I know a woman who was raped and kept the child, gave it up for adoption, and she doesn't regret it." He added, "On the rape thing, it's like, how does putting more violence onto a woman's body and taking the life of an innocent child that's a consequence of this crime -- how does that make it better? You know what I mean?" These comments became controversial both nationally and locally. US News and World Report comment that, "The GOP insults may also have an ironic backlash. Ryan, Akin, Mourdock, and Koster are poster boys for the need for more women in Congress, so Republican attacks on women may mean the election of more women." Koster acknowledged that the comments may have caused him to lose in Washington's most competitive district.
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The overall response to the multiple comments and controversies was negative, with many crediting them for Republican losses during the election. In an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal,Karl Rove, an American political consultant and policy advisor, credited "offensive rape comments" with "costing Republicans two Senate seats". On the federal level, the controversies were cited as causing or contributing to the defeat of Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Linda McMahon, Tom Smith and John Koster. However, Sen. Patty Murray, the chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said "[The] offensive comments from Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock did not decide this election. It was a result of hard work and critical strategic decisions over many months."
In an article in Salon, Joan Walsh wrote "suddenly Americans had to try to imagine how doctors or hospital administrators or law enforcement officials would decide what was 'legitimate rape,' as opposed to something else. Rape panels?" Conservative blog Hot Air linked Akin's remarks to a positive ten percent shift in US public opinion polls toward supporting legalizing abortion in all circumstances.