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Social Issues Resurface for Presidential Race

by Michael Higham, published


Without exacerbating the dubious comments made by Senate candidate Todd Akin, we can see social issues resurfacing in the election debate. When GOP candidate Mitt Romney selected Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, it was made clear that economic issues were going to be their focus. With party conventions coming up, there might be more emphasis on abortion, women's issues, and possibly marriage equality. The Democratic party has already solidified their stance on social issues in their platform. Republican leaders have condemned the Akin comments. Where does the policy debate go from here?

Some political commentators have called Rep. Paul Ryan a game-changer, but there is debate regarding the subjective label. Ryan authored "The Path to Prosperity," which was the flagship budget plan for the Republican party and made Ryan somewhat of an economic policy wonk. In light of Akin's gaffe, the Romney-Ryan ticket will now face more questions on abortion rights. Both Romney and Ryan have asked Akin to drop out of his race for Senate in Missouri.

Despite all the bashing of Todd Akin from the GOP, are they only trying to save face? If we take a look at the Republican party platform, it seems in-sync with Akin's position on abortion rights, sans his biological ignorance. NPR's Greg Allen stated in an article yesterday:

With little discussion, the committee on Tuesday adopted the same anti-abortion language it included in GOP platforms in 2004 and 2008. It seeks passage of a constitutional amendment that would extend legal rights to the unborn, essentially banning abortion. The language in the platform includes no exceptions for rape or incest.

In defense of party platform language, it may not have the intent of outlining the fine policy details.

Mitt Romney concludes that his general position on abortion is to make exceptions for rape, incest, and a life-threatening situations for a mother. While Paul Ryan has only held the position for the mother's health exception, he is comfortable adapting to Romney's view.

There are more important implications for the issue at stake than the beliefs of federal officials. Abortion laws have been an ongoing issue in individual states. Last month, IVN reported that Mississippi's last abortion clinic was allowed to stay open on a federal judge's ruling of a proposed state abortion law. Arizona has also had restrictive abortion laws blocked. Arizona's appellate court halted the law which would ban abortions after 20-weeks, but includes a health-exception. The 20th week of pregnancy is still considered to be before the viability of a fetus.

While substantive abortion debates are taking place in state law, the social issue will be and has been re-animated in the presidential campaign. Rep. Ryan was asked about his language in the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" that only made exceptions for "forcible" rape, terminology that stirs controversy. KDKA in Pittsburgh quoted Ryan when he stated, "Rape is rape, there is no splitting hairs over rape." The slight issue in terminology should not be a factor in the GOP ticket's approval since Ryan has already submitted to Romney's position on the abortion.

The most recent Gallup poll regarding abortion was conducted on May 3rd to 6th of this year. The poll shows that 77 percent of those surveyed support at least some legality of abortion. Support for absolute legality is at 25 percent and support for circumstantial abortions are at 52 percent.

It might be a matter of time until the Republican party refocuses the debate to economic issues. Their campaign plan has been derailed slightly by this controversy. However, when social issues come up in the presidential debate we will probably see candidates fall back along party lines. An emphasis on party lines, in the case of abortion, may also serve to re-invigorate the party base despite the condemnation of Akin's comments.

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