Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

Criticism of Todd Akin's Rape Comments Crosses Party Lines

Created: 22 August, 2012
Updated: 21 November, 2022
3 min read
Photo: Gage Skidmore

Missouri US Senate candidate Todd Akin's rape comments have ignited a firestorm of criticism that has crossed party lines. While critics see his comments, which included the clumsily-worded and medically dubious assertion that a woman's body has mechanisms that prevent pregnancy in the case of a "legitimate rape," as exemplifying the insensitivity of Republicans toward women's issues, many prominent Republican leaders have crossed party lines to agree with Democratic criticisms of Akin and his remarks.

Republican repudiations and even calls for Akin's withdrawal from the Missouri US Senate race were swift and widespread. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in a statement: "Today, [Todd Akin's] fellow Missourians urged him to step aside. I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race."

As reported by ABC News: "Among the big-name Republicans asking Akin to quit are his would-be colleagues, including Missouri's junior senator Roy Blunt, who issued a joint statement together with former Missouri U.S. senators John Ashcroft, Kit Bond, John Danforth, and Jim Talent."

Other Republican Senators critical of Todd Akin's rape comments included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Olympia Snowe (ME), Senator Kelly Ayotte (NH), and Senator Richard Burr (NC). McConnell called Akin's comments a "deeply offensive error at a time when his candidacy carries great consequence for the future of our country... To continue serving his country in the honorable way he has served throughout his career, it is time for Congressman Akin to step aside."

Additionally, Senator Scott Brown (MA), Senator Ron Johnson (WI), and Senator John Cornyn (TX), head of the National Republican Senate Committee, asked Akin to withdraw from the race.

On Tuesday, CBS Pittsburgh published an interview with Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (WI), in which Ryan said: "[Akin's] statements were outrageous, over the pail. I don’t know anybody who would agree with that. Rape is rape period, end of story."

Criticism of Todd Akin's rape comments also came in droves from the Republican Party's sympathizers in the media and blogosphere. The editors at National Review wrote:

"[Akin's] remarks combined several mistakes with brutal efficiency. There is no evidence for Akin’s biological claim. The frequency with which rape results in pregnancy has no bearing on whether abortion should be allowed when it does. And while it is not completely clear what point Akin was trying to make with the phrase, 'legitimate rape' should not appear in any good one."

Michelle Malkin wrote: "I don’t know what kind of biology classes Akin took, but rape-related pregnancies occur with significant frequency. No ifs, ands, or buts about it." In addition, William Kristol and Ann Coulter have called for Todd Akin to withdraw from the race.

The bipartisan excoriation of Todd Akin's rape comments does not come without qualification. Though Republicans have been swift to cross party lines and criticize one of their own, many of these same Republicans share Akin's substantive policy position on abortion in the case of rape, as attested in several of the sources hyperlinked above, and certainly Akin's electability after making his remarks is explicitly at issue in many of their criticisms.

Still, their willingness to criticize a fellow party member for making inaccurate remarks in his discussion of policy is a welcome sign when the common knee jerk reflex of politicians and commentators is to stand behind their colleagues rather than emphatically disavow them. Another silver lining in this story for Independent voters is the fact that their influence and voice are strong enough to swing the Republican Party in their direction in tone, if not in policy.

Policy is in many ways, a lagging indicator of popular ideas and beliefs. This controversy and the Republican response to it has normalized and legitimized popular opposition to comments like Todd Akin's and has set a climate and tone for future policy discussions with more rigorous standards for accuracy and sensitivity from candidates for public office.