[This article also appears on Huffingtonpost.com. You can access it from my author page here.]
Republicans have spent the last few days furiously trying to distance themselves from Missouri Rep. Todd Akin's assertion that women who are victims of "legitimate rape" do not get pregnant. They've tried to get him to drop out of his U.S. Senate race, even as polls say he's leading. But they have a tough case to make, since the real takeaway from Akin's ludicrous charge is that his approach to
women's rights (if not necessarily the "legitimate rape" claim itself) is
entirely consistent with the ideology of the modern Republican party.
GOP concern that the rape exception to abortion bans would be used to allow too many abortions is not new. In 2011, Akin was one of 226 sponsors of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which, among other things, sought to rewrite the definition of rape (to change the language to "forcible rape") in an effort to make it harder for women to get a post-rape abortion. Who else was a sponsor? Rep. Paul Ryan. With millions of Americans out of work, 226 members of Congress (nearly all Republicans) were laser-focused on abortion and limiting the definition of rape (the bill was H.R. 3, so it was among the first pieces of legislation offered that session). And Paul Ryan was one of them.
Given the waves of condemnation (as well as fundraising efforts) resulting from Akin's "legitimate rape" claim, it's no surprise that Ryan is now trying to walk back his sponsorship of H.R. 3, cutting off a questioner about Akin's claim with the statement, "Rape is rape. Rape is rape, period. End of story."
Ryan would desperately like his answer to the be the end of the story, but it won't be. It's just the beginning, as it becomes clear that Akin's "legitimate rape" charge was in keeping with the Republicans' "war on women" since taking control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections. (I detailed some of the aspects of the GOP assault on women's rights in June.)
Akin's assertion isn't problematic for Republicans because it is outrageous. It's a disaster for them because it shines a light on the GOP's disdain for women's rights.
Firedoglake recently put together a piece on Ryan's record on right-to-life issues. He voted to ban the FDA from approving any drug that could be used to abort a fetus. He voted for numerous "fetal protection" acts, including some that would criminalize a mother's behavior (not just a doctor's). He supported intervening to keep Terri Schiavo alive. He supported a bill requiring a doctor to tell mothers that the fetus could experience pain after 20 weeks. He spread the myth that health care reform legislation funded abortions. He opposed the president's requirement that health care plans provide birth control coverage. He sponsored a bill that would establish in law that life started at conception.
Ryan also sponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act, which, if strictly interpreted, could ban not only abortion but also in vitro fertilization and some forms of birth control. He voted to defund Planned Parenthood four times. And he sponsored a "fetal personhood" bill, a concept so outside the mainstream it was voted down by the people of Mississippi last year.
And on women's issues that don't pertain to abortion, Ryan's record isn't much better. He voted against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. And he supported the watered-down version of the Violence Against Women Act authorization that would have gutted the original law.
When it comes to women's rights issues, Ryan's record is closer to Akin's than it is to the beliefs of a majority of Americans.
And it's not just Ryan. The 2012 Republican platform supports a constitutional amendment banning abortion with no exception made for incest or rape. Not surprising, given that Rep. Steve King of Iowa said he hadn't "heard" of someone getting pregnant from incest.
(Given Mitt Romney's epic inability to tell the truth and comic record of flip-flopping on most issues, it's hard to pin down his views on abortion. So his choice of Ryan as a running mate and willingness to run under the GOP platform will have to speak for themselves.)
The bottom line is that the Republicans have spent the last two years conducting an all-out assault on the rights of women. So when Akin made his high-profile, obviously offensive and ridiculous charge about "legitimate rape," it didn't stand as the ranting of a looney on the fringes, outside of the boundaries of his party. Rather, he made his claim under the backdrop of a history of people who really believe the nonsense he spouted. And his assertion is in line with the approach of his party, who only a year ago sought to redefine rape to make the term cover fewer attacks.
Akin isn't an outlier. He is more accurately described as sitting on the right side (but fully inside) of a party that wants to legislate a return to a 19th century view of women's rights. Akin's looney claim didn't come from nowhere. It is a product of the far right's attempts to roll back women's rights, a view that has taken over the Republican party.
Ryan and Romney desperately want voters to see Akin as outside of the GOP mainstream. But the record shows that Akin and Ryan are more in tune than divided on women's issues. Akin speaks with a Republican voice, not a fringe one, and that's something that most Americans, I'm guessing, will not see as a good thing.