The Democrats have been attacking Mitt Romney and the Republicans for their opposition to abortion rights. On the eve of the Republican convention in Tampa, they got some help from Republican turned independent Charlie Crist, the former governor of Florida.
Crist endorsed President Barack Obama in an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times, and complained about growing Republican extremism, including on women’s issues.
"Look no further than the inclusion of the Akin amendment in the Republican Party platform, which bans abortion, even for rape victims," Crist wrote.
Crist refers to Todd Akin, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri. The GOP establishment , including Mitt Romney, called for Akin to withdraw after he said that "legitimate rape" rarely results in pregnancy. Akin apologized for his comment but refused to back out. Democrats have been tying Akin to the GOP and Romney ever since.
To assess the accuracy of Crist’s statement, we asked whether Akin’s views are part of the GOP 2012 platform and whether there is such a thing as an Akin amendment in the first place.
What the platform says
A party’s platform document is supposed to capture the values and policies its presidential candidate will advance if she or he wins the White House. We should note that presidential candidates don’t always agree with every element of the platform, but it is a statement of the party’s overall principles.
The 2012 platform was adopted by Republican delegates at last week’s convention in Tampa.
The key portion reads "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."
What these words mean is subject to interpretation, but at the very least, they call for nullifying Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that affirmed the right to an abortion as a private decision that should be left, within limits, to the woman.
We attempted to reach Crist to hear why he believes this language would ban abortion in cases of rape, but we were unsuccessful.
We did speak to David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, a group that opposes abortion. O’Steen said the platform does not prohibit abortion when rape produces a pregnancy.
"It states a broad policy," O’Steen said. "It says Roe should be reversed and human life should be protected and that elected representatives should have the right to pass those protections."
But O’Steen said those protections are not absolute, and Congress and individual states would have to decide what exceptions to allow. O’Steen compared those exceptions to laws regarding capital punishment. For example, homicide is a crime but killing a person in self-defense is not.
"It all depends on the circumstances," O"Steen said. Similarly, Congress and states could pass laws that allow or prohibit abortion in cases of rape. O’Steen says this would hold true if Congress passed the human life amendment or other legislation that declares that legal personhood begins at the moment of conception.
That legal opinion is far from universal.
Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, told Mother Jones magazine, "Anywhere they give legal rights to and define ’person’ as beginning at fertilization, you have the ’personhood’ effect." In the article, the personhood effect is defined as effectively banning all abortions.