Missouri Republican Senate nominee Todd Akin’s claim that women who are victims of “legitimate rape” have biological defenses to prevent pregnancy — and therefore don’t need the legal right to have an abortion — is already shaking up the Senate race in the Show Me State.
But it’s also perfectly timed to put heat on the Republican presidential ticket, given the recent selection of Rep. Paul Ryan and his especially conservative views on abortion.
Ryan’s abortion positions were already threatening to break out as a major issue in the campaign as Democrats seek to harness their advantage with women voters. Akin’s comments are likely to thrust a glaring spotlight onto Ryan’s views. (Hours after he made the comments, Akin said he “misspoke” amid a firestorm.)
Ryan and Akin largely agree when it comes to abortion rights. Both believe abortion should be illegal even in the case of rape and incest. Both were co-sponsors of H.R. 3, the 2011 bill that would have limited the federal abortion coverage exemption only to victims of “forcible rape” and women whose physical health was in danger from her pregnancy, closing a supposed loophole in health-of-the-mother exemptions conservatives have been crowing about for years.
After massive vocal protest from women’s rights advocates, the sponsors dropped the “forcible rape” language from the bill, giving up their quest to redefine rape in the federal code with little explanation.
Within hours of Akin’s comments Sunday, Democrats were tying Ryan to Akin and to H.R. 3:
The Obama campaign was already mobilizing an effort to highlight Ryan’s abortion views before Akin’s explosive comments. That effort will likely get an early kick-start Monday morning, as Sen. Claire McCaskill, Akin’s opponent, sits down with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
On Sunday, just hours after Akin’s comments appeared online, the Obama campaign turned to Twitter to boost its messaging that the GOP wants to eliminate gains made in women’s rights over the last half-century.
RT this if you stand with women. twitter.com/BarackObama/st…— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 19, 2012
On Friday, Team Obama released a swing-state ad linking Romney to Ryan’s further-right abortion views. Romney is more moderate than Ryan on abortion — Romney favors making abortion illegal except in the case of rape, incest and the health of the mother — but he also adopted the conservative position against Planned Parenthood. Both Romney and Ryan would like to strip federal funding from the organization.
The TV ad, airing in Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Iowa, casts Romney’s choice of Ryan as an embrace of far-right views on abortion rights. That argument may be easier to make as Akin’s comments bring abortion back to the fore.
Benjy Sarlin contributed to this story.