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Fact Check: Did Paul Ryan Have An 'Akin Moment?


“I’m very proud of my pro-life record."

In a breathless fit, The Raw Story is reporting that Paul Ryan called rape "just another 'method of conception'" in an interview with a local TV station:

Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan says that he personally believes that rape is just another “method of conception” and not an excuse to allow abortions.

During an interview with WJHL this week, Ryan was asked his view about Rep. Todd Akin, who recently asserted that women could not get pregnant from “legitimate rape.”

“Specifically where you stand when it comes to rape, and when it comes to the issue of should it be legal for a woman to be able to get an abortion if she’s raped?” WJHL Josh Smith wondered.

“I’m very proud of my pro-life record, and I’ve always adopted the idea that, the position that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life,” Ryan explained. “But let’s remember, I’m joining the Romney-Ryan ticket. And the president makes policy.”

Watch the clip here:

Now, do note that nowhere in the clip does Ryan in any way demean the seriousness of rape, nor does he suggest that it's morally equivalent to any other method of conception.

But don't tell Steve Benen, one of Rachel Maddow's bloggers, who is already doing his best to turn this into a statement on par with Todd Akin's infamous "legitimate rape" comment:

In this case, when Ryan says "the method of conception" is irrelevant, he's talking about rape. In other words, the Republicans' vice presidential nominee clearly believes the government should force women to take their pregnancy to term if they are impregnated by a rapist. Republicans can only distance themselves so much from Todd Akin before we realize they share his views.

Now, there is no doubt that Paul Ryan's position is comparatively uncommon, with only 20 percent of Americans holding it. But to compare it to Akin? There, The Raw Story and MSNBC have a bit of a problem. For one thing, Ryan pretty clearly admits in the clip that he is prepared to accept the rape and incest exceptions advocated by his running mate - something Akin never did.

Moreover, even if you take Ryan's statement of personal preference against rape exceptions as more relevant, there is still a problem. Even the Washington Post's Ezra Klein admits that this particular idea is not unique to Ryan or Akin, nor did it start with them:

Opposition to rape exceptions is not unusual among the party’s most prominent members. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum endorsed banning abortion without exception during his run for president as did Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

So why aren't Santorum and Perry Akins in the making? Political expediency is probably involved, but there is another reason - namely, that neither Santorum, nor Perry, nor Ryan holds that position because of a belief in demonstrably false, junk science. Nor did Ryan imply, at any point during this clip, that rape could ever be legitimate, or morally acceptable. He was simply making the case that many pro-life activists wish Akin had been able to make - that is, that even in situations where a child is conceived by morally repugnant means, the culprit is not the unborn child, who did not choose to be born, and therefore, it is unjust to punish that unborn child for someone else's mistake.

In other words, MSNBC and The Raw Story are taking Akin's widely mocked gaffe and pretend that the problem with it is the philosophy behind it, rather than the evidence and logic used to support that philosophy. If every statement to this effect counts as an Akinism, then one could almost feel sympathy with the position advocated by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

However, the fact is that even if Akin himself made an inexcusable gaffe, it does not follow from this that every statement of the same principle must also be inexcusable. Ryan should be warned - the silly season is apparently not over.

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