Recent remarks by politicians about the legitimacy of abortion in instances of rape are bringing women’s interests to the center of the presidential race.
The issue recently entered the national spotlight when Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., commented in a televised interview that abortion was not justified in cases of rape.
“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down,” Akin said in an interview with a St. Louis television station Aug. 19.
Akin’s remarks could have severe consequences in the November elections for the Republican Party, especially among the female electorate, said Walton Robinson, communications director for the North Carolina Democratic Party.
“Women in this election feel disrespected and that their true concerns aren’t being addressed,” said Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake County. “It’s just another example of how the Republican Party is out of touch with the needs and concerns of women.”
NCGOP could not be reached in time for publication.
But Akin’s comments are isolated and do not reflect the views of the Republican Party whatsoever, said junior Taylor Imperiale, president of Duke College Republicans. He added that Republicans across the nation have called for Akin to withdraw from the Senate race, where he is running against Sen. Claire McCaskill, the incumbent Democrat.
“Everyone knows that what he said is absolutely disgusting and totally indefensible,” Imperiale said. “The candidates have distanced themselves from that kind of rhetoric as much as possible.”
Still, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s collaboration with Akin in co-sponsoring the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” in 2011—a measure that would eliminate government funding for Planned Parenthood and other groups —establishes a connection between the vice presidential nominee and congressman that could alienate voters, Robinson said.
“From life issues to fiscal issues, Reps. Akin and Ryan are close ideological colleagues,” said Steve Taylor, Akin’s press secretary, in an interview.
Taylor noted that, as a congressional staffer, he could not comment on campaign issues and therefore declined to comment on the specific controversy.
But Ryan’s past work with Akin does not link the two politicians beyond their relationship as fellow congressmen, Imperiale said.
The Romney campaign responded with a public denunciation of Akin’s remarks, assuring voters that his administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.
“Congressman Akin’s comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable and, frankly, wrong,” Romney said in an interview with National Review Online. “Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive.”
Despite Romney’s efforts to distance himself from Akin’s remarks, female voters could be deterred from voting Republican, Donna Lisker, associate vice-provost of undergraduate education and co-director of Baldwin Scholars, wrote in an email Thursday. She added that Akin’s comments about the female body demonstrate limited understanding and compassion for the serious issue of rape.
“They can spin it, they can denounce it all they want,” Robinson said. “What his comments represent are the standard ideological stance of the Republican Party—it’s out of touch, it’s inappropriate and it alienates voters.”
A Gallup poll conducted from July 30 to Aug. 19—the day Akin made his remarks about “legitimate rape”—showed that Obama leads Romney in female voter support by eight points. Gallup poll numbers following Akin’s comments are not yet available.
Despite the recent barrage of media attention, rape and gender violence remain in the background of American minds, Lisker said. She added that both are issues in dire need of being addressed.
An American is sexually assaulted every two minutes, totaling an estimated 207,754 victims each year, according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. Thirty-eight percent of these cases involve rapists who are friends of their victims, and 44 percent of victims are under 18 years old.
“The stereotype of rape and gender violence as a crime perpetrated only by violent, scary strangers remains all too common,” Lisker said. “[It] desensitizes people to the more uncomfortable truth–that gender violence is extremely common, and that most perpetrators know their victims.”
To better shape their future policies, candidates should interact with their local rape crisis center and domestic violence shelter, she noted. Simply increasing the number of police officers on the streets is not sufficient, given that many gender violence crimes originate in private life.
“There is sympathy for rape victims among politicians, but when it’s about abortion, we don’t always find that support universal,” Ross added. “If you’re really going to be tough on crime and the perpetrator, there has to be the other side of the coin, which is helping the victim.”