In the midst of a presidential election centered on the economy, rape and pregnancy have suddenly become issues of national discussion, a development that could hurt Republican Mitt Romney.
The furor over Rep. Todd Akin's remark that victims of "legitimate rape" rarely get pregnant has forced the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee to repudiate Akin's comments, signaling that the controversial remark has already become a distraction for the Republican Party as it prepares for its nominating convention in Tampa, Fla., next week.
TIES TO PAUL RYAN
Even before his recent comments on rape, Democrats had planned to tie Akin to the Republican presidential ticket.
Akin appeared with Romney's running mate Paul Ryan at the press conference where Ryan rolled out his controversial 2012 budget plan, dubbed the Path to Prosperity, and the imagery of Akin standing next to Ryan figured to play at least a small role in efforts against him in Missouri's Senate race.
Now with Akin making headlines, Democrats will seek to tie Ryan to the Missouri congressman by highlighting social-issues legislation on which they've partnered.
Akin and Ryan cosponsored a 2011 bill, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act, that would redefine rape as "forcible rape," narrowing the scope of what's considered rape in cases of abortion. Akin and Ryan also cosponsored a personhood bill and the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act of 2004, which would require abortion providers to "make a specified statement to the pregnant woman that Congress has determined that there is substantial evidence that the process will cause the unborn child pain."
While most of the debate over Ryan's policies have centered on his budget and proposed Medicare reforms, Akin's comment threatens to place the focus on social issues for Romney's new running mate.
A PROBLEM FOR ROMNEY?
Republicans' eagerness to speak out against Akin may indicate that his comments tapped into a larger issue in the campaign. Democrats have previously taken aim at Romney's socially conservative stances and their effects on women.
Akin's comments on rape threaten to distract from Romney's message about a lagging economy and President Obama's health care and stimulus plans, as well as blunt the buzz about Ryan's recent selection as vice presidential nominee or the run-up to next week's Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Akin's inflammatory remarks also threaten to resurrect the "war on women" campaign deployed by Democrats in 2012.
In March and April, Democrats accused Republicans of an assault on women's reproductive rights for their attempts to block the mandate for contraception coverage in health insurance plans. Controversy flared when Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a "slut" for testifying before Congress in favor of the contraception coverage, and Romney took criticism for his less than forceful response to Limbaugh's comments.
"It's not the language I would have used," Romney told reporters when asked about Limbaugh's comments.
With Akin's remarks, Romney has wasted no time in condemning the controversial statements calling them "inexcusable."
"Congressman's Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong," Romney told the conservative magazine National Review in a phone interview this morning. "Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive."
Romney and Republicans have sought to keep the national discussion on unemployment and Obama's economic policies, and social issues could distract from his campaign message.
The president, however, used the Akin controversy today to illustrate what he claimed were differences between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to women's health.
"What I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn't have a bunch of politicians, the majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women," the president said.
"Although these particular comments have led Governor Romney and other Republicans to distance themselves, I think the underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their health care decisions or qualifying forcible rape versus non-forcible rape, I think those are broader issues and that is a significant difference in approach between me and the other party," Obama said.