The specter of Todd Akin, which has hovered around the GOP for a full week, has struck again. This time, Tom Smith, a first-time candidate for US Senate in Pennsylvania, who will probably lose his race to the well-situated Bob Casey, has been nicked. Smith was asked about the rape exception for abortions, and he gave this extremely clumsy response.
Mark Scolforo, Associated Press: How would you tell a daughter or a granddaughter who, God forbid, would be the victim of a rape, to keep the child against her own will? Do you have a way to explain that?
Smith: I lived something similar to that with my own family. She chose life, and I commend her for that. She knew my views. But, fortunately for me, I didn’t have to.. she chose they way I thought. No don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t rape.
Scolforo: Similar how?
Smith: Uh, having a baby out of wedlock.
Scolforo: That’s similar to rape?
Smith: No, no, no, but… put yourself in a father’s situation, yes. It is similar. But, back to the original, I’m pro-life, period.
[Another question on an unrelated topic]
John Micek, Morning Call: Mr. Smith, can I ask you to clarify one more time the question that Mark asked you. Did I just hear you say that having a child out of wedlock is analogous to rape?
Smith: No, I did not say that.
Scolforo: You did say that.
Micek: But you did say it, sir.
(Noise as a Smith campaign aide sought to answer, but Scolforo insisted Smith answer).
Scolforo: But you did say that.
Smith: I said I went through a situation.
Scolforo: With your daughter, with a daughter.
Smith: And it’s very, very difficult. But do I condone rape? Absolutely not. Do I propose life? Yes I do. I’m pro-life, period.
Smith denying what he said minutes earlier to a room full of reporters was probably a bad idea.
Obviously, comparing having a child out of wedlock, presumably willingly, to a rape is pretty awful. But even if Smith somehow found a more elegant way of explaining this, the underlying policy preference is exactly the same as Akin – banning abortion in all cases. I think all this talk about rape exceptions, and the resultant outrage when anti-choice conservatives inevitably say something completely insensitive relating to it, obscures the bigger point here. It’s not even clear how you would structure a rape exception. Unless there’s incontrovertible evidence of a rape adjudicated quickly, within a couple months, I don’t see how you could even definitively grant that exemption. Wouldn’t the offering of the exemption in time to have a legal abortion trample on the rape suspect’s due process rights? Dylan Matthews had a decent piece on this.
I understand the argument that focusing on the most extreme examples exposes the anti-choice movement’s rigid ideological worldview. But so does focusing on an abortion ban, period. The rationale for such a ban is inevitably one of control over women’s bodies and women’s decisions. You don’t actually need to make that too much more extreme than it already is. Tom Smith got tripped up because he’s an insensitive man. But that’s pretty clear from the preference for banning a legal medical procedure, and imposing his will on how women should choose to conduct themselves over theirs. I’m generally uncomfortable with focusing on the rape exception because it frames the argument as about how some people are more deserving of being allowed to have an abortion than others.