Politics & Policy

Step Aside, Todd Akin

Representative Todd Akin (R., Mo.)

Representative Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for senator from Missouri, became nationally notorious yesterday for saying something stupid. In the course of explaining why he believes abortion should be illegal even when pregnancies result from rape, he said that in cases of “legitimate rape” the victim’s body has defense mechanisms that usually prevent pregnancy.

Give the man points for concision, at least: His remarks combined several mistakes with brutal efficiency. There is no evidence for Akin’s biological claim. The frequency with which rape results in pregnancy has no bearing on whether abortion should be allowed when it does. And while it is not completely clear what point Akin was trying to make with the phrase, “legitimate rape” should not appear in any good one.

Only a small minority of Americans opposes abortion in cases of rape, and some Democrats are now trying to claim that the real scandal in Akin’s remarks is that he, and some other Republicans, belongs to it. For the very same reason this issue offers Democrats a political opportunity, however, it is only a theoretical one: No state is going to ban abortion in the case of rape even if Roe v. Wade is overruled — and even if Akin were elected to the Senate. Everyone knows this. (In contrast, Obama’s minority position on abortion — that infants who survive abortion should have no legal protection if they are at an early stage of development — led him to fight an actual change in the law.)

Some voters may nevertheless find a candidate’s theoretical view so abhorrent that they cannot support him, and it is a perfectly legitimate issue for opponents to raise. Most Republicans who hold the view that unborn children have a right to life regardless of the circumstances of their conception will have the wit to explain themselves in a way that prevents most voters who disagree from vetoing them for that reason.

While Akin is a stalwart conservative and an honorable man, we regret to say that he inspires no such confidence. That is one reason why Senator Claire McCaskill, the sitting Democratic senator, boosted him during the Republican primaries with ads calling him a “true conservative.” She knew that she is the weakest Senate incumbent on the ballot this year and that her only hope was to draw a weak opponent. Akin won a three-way primary with a plurality of the vote; there was no run-off. McCaskill’s strategy is now paying off.

Akin has backed off from his remarks, albeit with the politician’s excuse of “misspeaking.” People who make such remarks on television are typically capable of making more like them, or rather incapable of exercising the judgment to refrain. We suspect that this same lack of judgment will cause Akin to blow past tomorrow evening’s deadline for him to leave the race and allow the Republicans to select a better nominee. We hope the congressman, who surely wants to see a Senate with as much conservative strength as possible next year, will prove us wrong.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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