Groups seize on ‘definitional problem of rape’ comments

Greg Nash

Abortion rights activists are trying to awaken a debate on rape that they believe will put the GOP in dangerous waters ahead of 2016, after a top Republican said Thursday that his party had a “definitional problem of rape.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) spoke at the March for Life, a national anti-abortion rally, just hours after the issue of rape unexpectedly forced House Republicans to cancel a vote on an abortion bill.

“I’m going to need your help to find a way out of this definitional problem with rape,” Graham (R-S.C.) said.

Groups like Planned Parenthood and EMILY’s List, which advocate for female health issues, are now seizing on Graham’s comments as a way to paint the GOP as out of touch with women.

“He basically said we need to deal with this ‘rape optics problem.’ He basically said, ‘Let’s figure out how to dance around this together,’ ” said Marcy Stech, a spokeswoman for EMILY’s List. “That signaled to me that the leaders of this party have no idea that this isn’t just an optics problem.”

In his Thursday remarks, Graham drew attention to legislation backed by Democrats that would bar state and federal lawmakers from imposing a variety of restrictions on abortion rights, including forced ultrasounds, waiting periods, admitting privileges requirements and limits on medication abortion.

“I’m gonna call up the Women’s Health Protection Act, the centerpiece of the pro-choice movement. Are you familiar with it? I’m gonna make you familiar with it.”

But the women’s activists groups want to keep the focus on Republicans. 

They are hoping for a flashback to comments by former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) in 2012, when he raised questions on “legitimate rape,” which they hope will highlight the GOP’s controversial record on discussing rape.

Fears of an “Akin moment” could keep some Republicans quiet on the issue altogether, one lobbyist who works on abortion issues said.

 “They will say, ‘Hey, I saw what happened to those other guys who talked about rape. Get that away from me,’ 
” the lobbyist said.

Activists were quick to highlight Graham’s comments when asked about the political ramifications of this week’s abortion debates.

“The more they get in there and talk about this, the clearer the reality and totality is of their worldview and their desire to take away women’s rights and access is,” said Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

“I don’t see how that’s not at the center of some important conversations of the next few years,” she added.

In his remarks to the 10,000-person crowd at March for Life, however, Graham was careful to distance himself from the former representative’s comments.

“We’re not talking about ‘legitimate rape’ here. We’re talking about saving babies at 20 weeks,” Graham told the crowd, according to a report from Bloomberg Politics.

The issue of abortion and rape grabbed headlines nationally this week, after a female-driven revolt within the Republican Party forced leadership to abandon a vote on a late-term abortion bill.

 The party had expected to easily pass the legislation, but instead faced a barrage of criticism from Democratic lawmakers accusing GOP leaders of ditching the vote to save face among women.

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), a strong defender of the 20-week abortion ban bill, said she supported the leaders’ decisions to move more cautiously, calling the debate healthy.

“A subject matter such as this is a very emotional one, and we just have to respect everybody’s opinion and work through it,” she said in an interview.

“I’m really not that concerned that this is going to hurt any of the pro-life movement because we are going to be bringing this bill back,” she added.

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