Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), all but disowned by the Republican establishment after inaccurately claiming “legitimate rape” is unlikely to cause pregnancy, has found at least some defenders among pro-life organizations.
Missouri Right to Life, where Akin is a former board member, issued a statement praising Akin shortly after his comments became public. Akin later said he “misspoke.”
“Missouri Right to Life supports Congressman Akin’s defense of the life of an innocent unborn child conceived by rape,” Pam Fichter, the organization’s president said, according to the Kansas City Star. “Victims of sexual assault deserve a compassionate response and should not be further victimized by abortion.
Susan B. Anthony List, a national organization that promotes pro-life politicians, also lent him some encouraging words.
“Congressman Akin, a longtime pro-life leader, has said he had misspoken, and no one is arguing that rape is anything but a despicable, horrible crime,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the group’s president, said in a statement. “Abortion supporters like Sen. Claire McCaskill are trying to use this issue as a smokescreen to hide from their radical, pro-abortion records that are out of step with the majority of Missourians and the American people.”
She concluded: “We are proud to support Congressman Akin.”
In an ominous sign for Republican officials, some of whom are openly calling on Akin to reevaluate his candidacy entirely, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins warned that any push to remove Akin might be seen as a slight by the pro-life movement. He singled out Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), who was the first major Republican lawmaker to call for Akin’s exit from the race.
“He should be careful because based on some of his statements there may be call for him to get out of his race,” Perkins told Politico. “He has been off the reservation on a number of Republican issues, conservative issues I should say. His support among conservatives is very shallow.”
The president of Family Research Council’s PAC also reaffirmed the group’s support for Akin, saying they “enthusiastically” back his campaign.
“This is another case of ‘gotcha politics’ against a conservative leader,” FRC Action President Connie Mackey said in a statement.
Though even the anti-abortion groups avoided wading too deep into the substance of Akin’s claim, Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for the American Family Association, actively defended Akin’s initial interview.
“What Akin meant by ‘legitimate rape:’ actual forcible rape, not consensual sex that later gets called rape,” he wrote on Twitter. “Come on, people.”
Fischer said that “physical trauma of forcible rape can interfere w/ hormonal production, conception,” linking to a Christian pro-life site espousing the theory to back him up.
While a number of pro-life politicians over the years have cited a mythic biological defense against unwanted pregnancy, the available science strongly disputes the claim. A 1996 study by the American Journal of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimated that over 32,000 pregnancies a year result from rape, and concluded that “rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency.”
Republican politicians have been less kind to Akin. Mitt Romney first distanced himself from Akin’s remarks on Sunday, then strongly condemned them on Monday morning, joining a chorus of Republican Senate candidates and conservative activists and commentators who did the same. If Akin’s views have any backers among Republican lawmakers and party officials, they’re keeping very quiet.
This post has been updated.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.