Todd Akin and Republican abortion plank: bad timing?

The GOP platform committee is meeting in Tampa, Fla., this week – and set to approve a plank opposing abortion with no exceptions. Democrats call it the 'Akin plank,' after Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, who is under pressure to quit his Senate race after a sensational comment on rape.

Jeff Roberson/AP/File
Rep. Todd Akin (R) of Missouri, announcing his candidacy for US Senate, in Creve Coeur, Mo., in this May 17, 2011, file photo, is now under siege for comments in a Sunday interview on abortion and 'legitimate rape.'

Republicans in Tampa, Fla., are drafting a platform provision that calls for a “human life amendment” to the Constitution: a ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Nothing new there. The party adopted the same plank four and eight years ago. But this year, the timing could not be worse for the GOP, amid the uproar over Rep. Todd Akin’s statement on “legitimate rape.” Congressman Akin of Missouri, Republican challenger to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), is under intense pressure from GOP leaders to withdraw from the race, but has resisted.

Akin has created a perfect storm for the Democrats: He now embodies the Republican Party’s opposition to abortion under all circumstances, a position that the Romney campaign does not follow. Mitt Romney includes an exception for rape, in line with the view of most Americans.

Democrats are now calling the GOP abortion provision “the Akin plank” and are tying him to Mr. Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. In 2011, Akin and Congressman Ryan (among others) cosponsored legislation stating that only pregnancies resulting from “forcible rape” would be exempt from a federal ban on abortion funding.

The Republican National Committee is expected to vote on its abortion plank on Wednesday, with the full convention voting on Monday.

The abortion plank “will affirm our view and support for the right to life” that has long been part of the Republican platform, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) of Virginia, chairman of the platform committee, told Bloomberg News.

The platform does not include exceptions, because as long as the US Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion is in effect, “these are matters of faith and morals,” Governor McDonnell said. He also condemned Akin’s comment, saying that Akin’s assertion that rape rarely results in pregnancy is “bad science.” McDonnell condemned “violence in every form against women.” Akin has retracted his comment.

Usually, the drafting of party platforms is considered a pro forma exercise and a safety valve for input by interest groups. Candidates often say the platform doesn’t really matter. In 1996, Republican nominee Bob Dole famously said he hadn’t even read the GOP platform. This year, expect Team Obama and the Democrats to make hay out of Akin and the abortion plank, as they seek to exploit their advantage with women voters.

While apologizing Monday for making an “ill-conceived” statement, Akin has stuck by his view that abortion should be banned under all circumstances.

The Democrats – especially Senator McCaskill, considered the most vulnerable Democrat in the Senate – want nothing more than for Akin to stay right where he is, still running but ostracized by his party in every way, including financially. Republicans were counting on winning McCaskill’s seat, as they seek to take control of the Senate, where Democrats currently have a 53-to-47 majority.

A survey taken Monday night by Public Policy Polling shows Akin still leading McCaskill by one percentage point, 44 to 43. That’s down from his five-point average lead before his rape comment, but the signal that he still could win might encourage him to stay in the race.

The Akin uproar began on Sunday, when he was asked on St. Louis television about his abortion position. Addressing the issue of exceptions, he said pregnancies from rape are “really rare,” based on his understanding from doctors.

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin said on KTVI-TV. “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 of the rapist, and not attacking the child."

Akin faces a 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline on whether to quit the race. If he drops out after 5 p.m., it would require a court order to remove him from the ballot. Until Sept. 25, the Missouri Republican committee has two weeks to select a replacement from the moment Akin drops out, if he does.

“Rape is an evil act,” Akin said in an ad released Tuesday morning. “I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologize.”

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