U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin, R-Mo., may have cost his party a Senate seat over the weekend. Fresh off his narrow win in the GOP primary against two serious candidates, he was asked whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape. "If it's a legitimate rape," he answered, "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Akin's statement, shocking for its outspoken ignorance of basic science, reminds us of previous candidates who believed wrongly that their conservatism could serve as a substitute for study, thought and reason. It was even more reprehensible for its crass insensitivity to rape victims. Conservative commentators have almost unanimously condemned it, as has presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senate Committee and a host of Republican senators, Senate candidates and even candidates for lower offices.
Opponents of legalized abortion are not motivated by misogyny or ignorance of science but by a concern for protecting nascent human life. Akin has delivered a severe blow to the pro-life movement. Liberals, eager to perpetuate the myth of a Republican "War on Women," are working overtime to conflate his comments with broader pro-life beliefs.
On Tuesday, the Huffington Post's lead story declared that "Todd Akin's Abortion Position Reflects GOP Platform," illustrating the piece with a not-so-subtle image of a wire coat hanger. The New York Times, in a story on the Republican platform, wrote, "Even as the Republican establishment continued to call for [Akin] to drop out of his Senate race because of his comments on rape and abortion, Republicans approved platform language on Tuesday calling for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion with no explicit exceptions for cases of rape or incest."
Liberals often try to discredit the pro-life position by appealing to the extreme cases of pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. But these cases are indeed rare: A 2004 survey by the pro-choice Alan Guttmacher Institute found that 1 percent of women who had abortions cited rape as a contributing factor, and less than a half of a percent cited incest.
In other words, if the abortion debate were to reach a consensus on banning abortion, but with exceptions for rape and incest, it would cover nearly 99 percent of cases. Most pro-life politicians -- including those who oppose such exceptions in principle -- believe this would be enormous progress from the status quo toward the goal of protecting every innocent human life in the womb. This is why few or no complaints have arisen that Romney, like every Republican presidential nominee since the Roe v. Wade abortion decision, supports a rape and incest exception.
The sin that has destroyed Akin's career is not his position on abortion. It is his callous and ignorant comments about rape, delivered with such arrogant certainty. Men and women far wiser than Akin have argued simply that the tragedy of rape is only compounded by the subsequent taking of an innocent life. It may be a minority position, but it is also one deeply held by tens of millions of Americans, and it doesn't require any belief in Akin's junk science.