Todd Akin’s controversial comments about rape and pregnancy put Paul Ryan, who’s been stridently anti-abortion throughout his political career, in a tough position. Now, Ryan is attempting to distance himself from Akin’s comments as national attention turns to his party’s views on social issues.
Ryan and Akin co-sponsored legislation in the House to narrow the rape and incest exceptions to a federal abortion ban. But Ryan quickly distanced himself from Akin’s comments this week. “His statements were outrageous, over the pale. I don’t know anybody who would agree with that. Rape is rape period, end of story,” Ryan told CBS affiliate KDKA in Pennsylvania Tuesday.
Ryan defended his record. “Well, look, I’m proud of my pro-life record. And I stand by my pro-life record in Congress,” Ryan said.
But he also tried to shield Mitt Romney from the most controversial elements of his own record in Congress.
“But Mitt Romney is the top of the ticket and Mitt Romney will be president, and he will set the policy of the Romney administration,” Ryan said.
The bill he and Akin co-sponsored would have limited federal funding for abortion coverage to only “forcible rape” — language that was removed from the bill after an uproar from women’s rights activists. Though he has since apologized for using the term “legitimate rape,” Akin’s wording was seemingly a nod to the notion of “forcible rape” being the only kind of rape worthy of protections.
“Rape is rape. Rape is rape, period. End of story,” Ryan said when asked about the idea of “forcible rape” — language that existed in the bill Ryan supported.
Pressed on what Ryan meant when he co-sponsored the bill, Ryan repeated himself: “Rape is rape, and there’s no splitting hairs over rape.”
Ryan insisted that the harsh spotlight currently falling on the party over women’s issues won’t ultimately impact on how women vote in November.
“And I don’t think they’re going to take the bait of all these distractions that the president is trying to throw at them.”
Update 11:38 a.m.:
The Obama campaign wasn’t satisfied with Ryan’s explanation of his record, or his characterization of the abortion issue as a “distraction.”
“[Ryan] may hope that American women never learn about this record, but they deserve an answer to why he wanted to redefine rape and remove protections for rape victims,” said Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign. “Labeling these critical issues of women’s health as ‘distractions’ and refusing to answer whether he believes rape victims need to be protected, as he did in an interview last night, is a great disservice to women across America.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.