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Unlike Romney, State Leaders Oppose Abortion After Rape

Caleb Bryant Miller for Texas Tribune

The state’s Republican leaders are at odds with the presumptive GOP presidential ticket on one key element of abortion politics — whether they oppose the procedure for victims of rape.

Mere hours after U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., and an ardent opponent of abortion in almost all cases, made comments on Sundaysuggesting that women’s bodies would naturally reject pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape,” Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan released a statement distancing themselves from him. They said their administration "would not oppose abortion in instances of rape."

Elected officials from Texas widely condemned Akin's comments: U.S. Sen. John Cornyn released a statement that seemed to suggest Akin should drop his Senate bid; Gov. Rick Perry's office called Akin's words “off-base, insensitive and a distraction from the important issue of protecting life.” Akin, for his part, quickly backtracked, saying he "misspoke" in his "off-the-cuff remarks," and adding that he understands "that rape can result in pregnancy."

Yet Akin's broader opposition to abortion in cases of rape is shared by many top Texas leaders.Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and GOP Senate hopeful Ted Cruz only support abortion when the mother’s life is in jeopardy. The position isn't uncommon among Republicans; CNN reported on Monday night that a rape exemption is likely not part of the GOP abortion platform set to be adopted at next week's Republican Convention in Tampa. 

Perry's stance is a relatively new one for him; he revised his position to oppose abortion in cases of rape and incest late last year on the presidential campaign trail, saying the issue had troubled him for a long time.

“The only exceptions to abortion in the governor’s personal opinion are when the life of the mother is threatened,” Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said on Monday.

In their fierce battle for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, Dewhurst and Cruz, the former state solicitor general, both promoted their anti-abortion credentials, saying only when a mother’s life was in jeopardy should a pregnancy be terminated.

Abbott also shares the view that abortion should be reserved for the rare cases when the mother's life is in danger.

Even Ryan himself, the presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee, has said he does not support abortion in cases of rape and incest. He is also, along with Akin, among the sponsors the Sanctity of Life Act, a controversial bill designed to overturn Roe v. Wade and outlaw abortion by stating that human life begins with fertilization. 

This stance — generally reserved for the staunchest social conservatives — has been less popular with average voters.

A bill Texas lawmakers passed last legislative session requiring women seeking abortions to receive a sonogram — and view images or hear a description of the fetus — at least 24 hours ahead of the procedure includes an exception for women who are the victims of rape or incest.

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll this year found that 37 percent of voters think women should be able to obtain abortions as a matter of personal choice, while roughly a third support abortion only in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger. Twelve percent would never allow the procedure.

Perry’s office said that although the governor may not be completely aligned with Romney and Ryan on the abortion issue, his support for their ticket is unwavering.

“He supports the pro-life Romney-Ryan ticket, and he knows they’re going to protect mothers and children more than the pro-abortion Obama administration,” Frazier said.  

Akin’s hot water may be giving Texas Republicans some uncomfortable déjà vu. In 1990, Clayton Williams, Ann Richards’ Republican gubernatorial opponent, was forced to apologize for making a joke comparing rape to bad weather, and suggesting that, if it was inevitable, victims should “relax and enjoy it.” The comments haunted him for decades; in 2008, then-presidential candidate John McCain canceled a fundraiser in Williams' Midland home after he was reminded of the gaffe. 

Emily Ramshaw investigates state agencies and covers social services for KUT's political reporting partner, the Texas Tribune. Previously, she spent six years reporting for The Dallas Morning News, first in Dallas, then in Austin. In April 2009 she was named Star Reporter of the Year by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors and the Headliners Foundation of Texas. Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, she received a bachelor's degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
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