The interview question that hurtled Rep. Todd Akin (R) of Missouri into a world of political hurt was why he believes that abortions should be prohibited even in cases of pregnancies resulting from rape. It's a view shared by about 20 percent of the American public and other conservative lawmakers, including vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan – and one that has been part of the Republican Party’s official platform for nearly three decades.
Representatives Ryan and Akin, in fact, have voted in lockstep on abortion matters since Akin joined Ryan in the House in 2001. Moreover, they teamed up on a controversial bill defining life as beginning at conception. Similar measures put forward at the state level have been rejected by voters and lawmakers even in GOP strongholds such as Mississippi.
During a radio interview Tuesday, Akin has vowed to stay in the race for the US Senate, even as all four of Missouri's current and former GOP senators and the National Republican Senatorial Committee urged him to drop out. He is under fire for comments made Sunday in which he suggested that victims of a “legitimate rape” generally do not become pregnant.
Akin has since apologized.
The Romney campaign repudiated Akin’s remarks shortly after they aired on Sunday -– and there’s nothing to connect Mitt Romney or Ryan to Akin’s bewildering statement about “legitimate rape.” The Romney campaign statement elaborated that a Romney-Ryan administration would allow abortions under the exceptional cases of rape, incest, or in instances of danger to the life of the mother.
On the presidential ticket, then, Romney’s policy trumps Ryan’s record.
Still, Ryan's and Akin's voting records on abortion-related issues are barely distinguishable. During his 14 years in Congress, Ryan has voted in perfect concert with the positions taken by National Right to Life Committee, according to the NRLC scorecard. That's 78 votes with NRL, and none against (he didn’t vote on three bills). In his House career, Akin voted with NRL 59 times and against it once (Akin was one of 25 Republicans joining 189 Democrats to nearly sink the Medicare Modernization Act in 2003. Here’s NRLC’s write up of the MMA vote.)
However, the two differ on one important matter: Ryan believes abortions could be an option in the case of danger to the mother, while Akin does not.
One bill that hasn’t made that scorecard, however, is a simple, three-page bill called the Sanctity of Human Life Act, cosponsored by Ryan, Akin, and 62 other Republican lawmakers. That bill, which has yet to see a floor vote in the Republican-held US House during this session of Congress, would enshrine the principle that “the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being, and is the paramount and most fundamental right of a person; and the life of each human being begins with fertilization.”
These so-called “personhood” bills have stirred up controversy in state legislatures because, while they don’t explicitly ban abortion (in the Human Life Act, for example, states would “have the authority to protect the lives of all human beings” but not the ability to ban abortion outright), they do point strongly in that direction.
In conservative Mississippi, for example, 55 percent of voters rejected a personhood amendment in a 2011 referendum. Virginia’s Republican-controlled state government couldn’t pass a similar bill during its 2012 session.
By contrast, the Republican Party platform, formed every four years at the Republican National Convention, embraces the personhood protection.
Since 1984, the party’s official position on abortion issues has been some variation of the following line: “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children.”
A human life amendment, which has been bandied about since the 1970s, would in its simplest form overturn the US Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade, which protects abortion rights, and in its broadest forms outlaw all abortions, according to the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment.
That language was approved for the 2012 platform on Tuesday, a move that Democrats pounced on as the “Akin plank” of the GOP platform.
For Republicans, it's not unusual to see the presidential candidate and the vice presidential candidate part company over the issue of abortion exceptions. President George W. Bush and 2008 party nominee Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, for example, favored abortion exceptions in the case of incest, rape, and danger to the life of the mother.
Coincidentally, the Romney-Ryan ticket ends up in the same place as Senator McCain and his running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin: the presidential nominee in favor of some exceptions, the vice presidential nominee in favor of fewer.