WASHINGTON -- In 1984, activists with a new, obscure "personhood" movement went to the Republican convention in Dallas with bags of tiny pink plastic fetus dolls to distribute to one and all. The message: a fetus is a person entitled to constitutional protection, which makes abortion an act of murder.
Back then the sidewalk activists were viewed as cranks and outsiders, even though Ronald Reagan's party paid them lip service. Now they are central to the fate of the GOP and its presidential hopes.
Absolutist right-to-lifers such as Reps. Todd Akin and Paul Ryan know their Bible, including Galatians 6:7: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
It's the same with the Republican Party.
An evermore purist and empowered anti-abortion movement, nurtured (and used) by the GOP for years, now threatens to upend the party, its presidential ticket and the people who rode the movement to power.
Even before this week, the gender gap stood at about 20 points in the Democrats' favor among women. The Romney-Ryan ticket can't afford to see that number grow, especially among swing-voting women who think President Barack Obama has done squat for the economy and their family.
It was riveting to watch the GOP leadership and the (non-social-issue) conservative hierarchy frantically try to banish Missouri Rep. Akin after he made his now-infamous remark about "legitimate" rape.
Mitt Romney, Karl Rove, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Sean Hannity, to name just a few, begged, pleaded, threatened -- in real time and in front of national television and radio audiences. It was the Galatians Moment.
Every one of those big-time conservatives, to one degree or another, owe their prominence to people such as Akin. Many of them in Congress, including Ryan, have voted consistently with Akin to ratchet down, eliminate and criminalize abortion. And politicians such as Romney have eagerly sought the endorsement of the Akins of the world.
The role of the right-to-lifers in the GOP is familiar, but their importance isn't always appreciated beyond the abortion issue.
The modern Republican Party, founded by Ronald Reagan in 1976, is largely an alliance between conservative white Protestants in the South and conservative white Catholics in the suburbs elsewhere. Abortion had a lot to do with forging that alliance.
Formerly antagonists in theology and politics, Bible Belt Protestants and Northern Catholics joined hands for the first time a generation ago after the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which anchored a woman's right to an abortion in the U.S. Constitution. Catholics, Protestants and some Orthodox Jews found a joint mission, and ever since the GOP -- especially in recent years -- has made abolishing abortion by constitutional amendment a vaguely worded but real commitment. The party platform committee did it again in Tampa on Tuesday.
Romney, it's true, has never been a legislative or constitutional purist on abortion, but Ryan is. So are most GOP members of the House and Senate and most of the party's candidates in 2012.
Ryan now says that he will subordinate his own views as the junior member of the ticket and, if they win, as vice president of the United States.
As for Akin, the GOP establishment doesn't understand that in his world, martyrdom is a fine, even preferred, way to make your point. And he thinks he still has a chance to win.
Of course, nobody usually cares what's in a party platform. And nobody did -- until Hurricane Todd was spotted off the coast of Tampa.