A fine? Six months behind bars? Longer?
I'd like to ask those who will ratify the GOP platform in Tampa this week what punishment they think is appropriate for a woman who is raped and decides not to carry the pregnancy to term.
Or would her physician be the one facing criminal prosecution? Maybe both?
The question is not esoteric. It's a natural consequence of the party platform as drafted. Unless there are eleventh-hour changes, the relevant part of the official document that sets forth what the party represents will stand as follows:
"Faithful to the 'self-evident' truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children."
There are no exceptions made for rape or incest, which means the Republican Party has again taken the position that it should be unlawful for a woman who becomes pregnant due to rape or incest to have an abortion.
It was the same in 2004 and in 2008. Aside from some minor, semantic tweaks, the same language appeared in the Republican Party platform four years ago, sandwiched between "Freedom of Speech and of the Press" and "Preserving Traditional Marriage" (which itself is right before "Safeguarding Religious Liberties"). John McCain didn't agree then, nor did George W. Bush when similar language was put forth on his watch, but that's what ended up in the platform.
What's changed is Todd Akin, of course. The congressman and Republican Senate nominee from Missouri has ensured that unlike in the 2010 midterm elections, social issues will be back in play in 2012, including at the presidential level.
Mitt Romney made it clear that he disagrees with Akin about whether rape victims can become pregnant, and he called on him to get out of the U.S. Senate race. "As I said yesterday, Todd Akin's comments were offensive and wrong, and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country," Romney said last week. "Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race."
That was the appropriate response -- as far as it went. But there is something else Romney should do, both because it would be just and because it would benefit his campaign, especially among those who will determine his fate: not the fringe, but independents.
Three months ago, a Gallup survey found that 41 percent of Americans consider themselves "pro-choice," compared with 50 percent "pro-life," but that superficial split masked a clear consensus in support of exceptions to the pro-life stance: 25 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal under any circumstances; 52 believe it should be legal only under certain circumstances; and 20 percent say it should be illegal in all circumstances. That means 77 percent of Americans support abortion rights in at least some cases.
Given that, imagine the impact if Romney initiated a platform fight, demanding that the language in the document be amended to allow for exceptions in cases of rape and incest.
As it stands, Americans will remain on vacation this week -- more interested in the path of Tropical Storm Isaac than they are in the Oak Ridge Boys singing the national anthem, the roll call vote for the nomination, the remarks of Ann Romney, and the rest of the Republican convention proceedings. The only drama will concern the party's struggle to quell interest in the adoption of the platform -- a typically easy task now made difficult by Akin.
Things would be dramatically different if the old Mitt Romney were to arrive in the Sunshine State and demand that the platform be modified. That would be the Romney who governed Massachusetts and once told its voters, "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country."
I don't expect that to happen. For starters, it would create some awkward moments with his running mate. Paul Ryan believes abortion should be legal only in cases when the mother's life is at risk, and he sponsored a bill recognizing unborn "personhood" that made no allowance for rape victims.
A Washington Post editorial recently noted: "One example of this effort to minimize rape came earlier this year when Congress considered whether to rewrite the rape exception in federal abortion funding bans by inserting the phrase 'forcible rape,' words eerily similar to Mr. Akin's note of 'legitimate rape.' Among the bill's 227 cosponsors was Rep. Paul Ryan, now Mitt Romney's running mate. The language was stripped from the bill before it won final House approval, but even then, it contained such onerous provisions that it never made it to the Senate floor."
That won't play in places like Montgomery County, Pa. -- all the more reason for Romney to maintain his purported pro-life views, but to draw a line in the sand in support of commonsense exceptions.
After all, the government shouldn't tell a woman who has been raped that she can't carry her pregnancy to term. And it shouldn't tell her that she must.
Originally Published in the Philadelphia Inquirer
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