Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin, R-Missouri, waves to the crowd. (Orlin Wagner/AP)Rep. Todd Akin Tuesday affirmed his intention to stay in the Missouri Senate race saying he would not let "one word spoken in one day in one sentence" derail his career.
Which one word is Akin talking about? That would be "legitimate." On Sunday, Akin said in a televised interview that victims of "legitimate rape" very rarely become pregnant because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." He used that misinterpretation of female anatomy as support for his stance that rape victims should not have access to legal abortions, because for the most part they would not become pregnant. (The comment has led to scores of his fellow Republicans asking him to drop out of the Missouri Senate race, which would allow party leaders to appoint someone else.) Though Akin said Monday that he understands that women can become pregnant from rape, he also said that his main mistake was using the word "legitimate," not implying that rape can't result in pregnancy. The word he meant to use, he told Mike Huckabee on Monday, is "forcible."
"Forcible rape" is not defined in federal law, and is described in different ways in state codes. The term made national news in January when House Republicans, including vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) along with Akin, co-sponsored a bill that would change federal law to prevent Medicaid recipients from getting taxpayer funded abortions unless their lives were in danger or they were victims of "forcible rape." (The current law only allows Medicaid abortions in cases of incest, rape or to save the mother's life, without the "forcible" language.) Pro-abortion rights groups went on the attack, pointing out that the new law could prevent poor people who were the victims of statutory rape or who had been drugged and then raped--which wouldn't necessarily meet the definition of "forcible" if there was no use of violence--from accessing abortions. Eventually, House Republicans backed down from the term and removed "forcible" from the bill, but left in a provision that would only allow pregnant incest victims taxpayer-funded abortions if they were under the age of 18. The bill passed the House in February, but never passed the Democratically-controlled Senate.
One implication of Akin's use of the term "legitimate rape" is that enough reported rapes are false that a distinction needs to be made between fake and real rapes. (You rarely hear anyone talk about "legitimate robberies." The assumption is that most reported robberies are indeed robberies.) Akin, in fact, confirmed that this was his meaning Tuesday, telling CNN's Dana Loesch that he used the word legitimate to make "the point that there were those who were making false claims."
It's unclear if Akin's belief that some women lie about rape to receive abortions has influenced his policy stance that all abortions should be illegal. In the original Sunday interview, he said that he believes rapists should be punished, but that allowing rape victims to have abortions would be punishing unborn children. In that view, Akin is far from alone. The official Republican party platform has for more than 10 years said that that all abortions should be illegal, without exceptions for rape or incest victims. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he disagrees with this stance, however, and would support abortion exceptions for rape victims if elected. The party faces a big legal hurdle in making that plank a reality, however. In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that the government can't outlaw abortions in the first two trimesters of pregnancy.