Abortion could be touchy issue for GOP

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Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan probably won't take any questions from the media during a campaign visit to Carnegie today.

If he does, he will surely be asked about Missouri Republican Senate candidate and fellow House member Todd Akin's strange comments about rape and pregnancy over the weekend.

Rep. Akin was asked during a televised interview whether he believed abortion should be an option for women who become pregnant because of rape. "First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare," he said. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Just to prove that the interviewer was not dealing with the most empathetic of 20th century moral philosophers, Mr. Akin doubled down on the stupid by denying a woman access to abortion under every circumstance, including rape.

"Let's assume that maybe that didn't work, or something," he said with the authority only an advanced form of moral obtuseness can bring. "I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."

With those words, Mr. Akin's name recognition shot up around the country, but not in a good way. The Tea Party candidate effectively nationalized his Senate race against incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, whom he had been leading by a comfortable margin.

The next 24 hours produced the usual gnashing of teeth and rending of garments among the conservative ruling class when things go horribly wrong. By the time Mr. Akin began his apology tour the following day, it was already a political truism that he'd blown not only his chance to pick up a vulnerable Democratic seat, but also torpedoed the chance for a Republican majority in the Senate.

Fellow Republicans, including the reliably timid Mitt Romney, had either distanced themselves from his views or called for him to leave the Senate race. "The Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape," the Romney campaign said, attempting to draw a sharp distinction.

Despite Mr. Romney's contention that Mr. Akin's words were "inexcusable," it was pointed out by meddlesome Democrats that Mr. Ryan's relationship to the Missouri Senate candidate deserves closer scrutiny. The two conservative House members co-sponsored the 2011 No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act, a failed attempt to ban all federally-funded abortions resulting from rape.

It turns out that Mr. Ryan is as much a foe of abortion as Mr. Akin, as Mr. Ryan just last year didn't believe abortion should be allowed for victims of rape, either. Things, as they say, change.

It is a ticklish spot for the Republican ticket to be in, given that women are 52 percent of the electorate, but both Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan have shown an amazing propensity for changing their minds if the wind blows hard enough.

Although Mr. Romney is notorious for backsliding in whatever direction is required for short-term political gain, Mr. Ryan's ideological malleability appears to be of more recent vintage. Still, when it comes to apostasy, Mr. Ryan is as adept as the top of the ticket in throwing once-cherished principles and people under the bus.

Take the bum's rush Mr. Ryan gave his former girlfriend, the Objectivist romance novelist Ayn Rand, of whom he once said: "I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It's inspired me so much that it's required reading in my office for all my interns and staff."

These days, Mr. Ryan insists that stories of his infatuation with the queen of selfishness are "urban legends." Mr. Ryan recently told the National Review: "I reject her philosophy. It's an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person's view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas. Don't give me Ayn Rand."

Instead of "Atlas Shrugged" or "The Fountainhead," will Mr. Ryan's interns now be compelled to read Aquinas' dusty 13th century classic, "Summa Theologica," to keep up with their boss' newfound fondness for medieval scholasticism?

Somehow, I doubt it. I suspect there will always be a little bit of John Galt tucked away in a soundproof corner of Mr. Ryan's soul.


Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.


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