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GOP Lawmaker Revives 'Legitimate Rape' Language In Abortion Debate

National Journal logo National Journal 12/17/2014 Sophie Novack

If Democrats have been looking for the next Todd Akin, one Missouri lawmaker just made their search very simple.

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Following in the footsteps of Akin's infamous "legitimate rape" comment in 2012, another Republican from his state reportedly used the exact same terminology to speak about a new abortion bill up for consideration.

"Just like any rape, you have to report it, and you have to prove it," state Rep. Rick Brattin, author of the legislation, told Mother Jones. "So you couldn't just go and say, 'Oh yeah, I was raped,' and get an abortion. It has to be a legitimate rape."

Brattin's bill would require women who want an abortion to present written consent from the father. The bill includes exceptions for instances of rape and incest—as long as the woman can prove they are "legitimate."

Reproductive-rights groups are seizing on Brattin's comments as indicative of a trend of Republicans being less-than-sensitive in speaking about abortion.

"He doesn't really clarify what he thinks a 'legitimate rape' is, but the notion that a woman has to prove she was raped to get an abortion is deeply troubling," Erin White, communications manager for reproductive rights at the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in an email.

Brattin's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Akin's comments during his Senate run—that "legitimate rape" rarely results in pregnancy because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down"—drew a firestorm of criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike, and the former representative ended up losing his competitive race to incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill.

Brattin's bill is part of a wave of antiabortion legislation introduced across the country in recent years—a trend the Guttmacher Institute has called "unprecedented." In 2013, 22 states enacted 70 antiabortion measures, according to the research group, which supports abortion rights. In 2012 there were 43 enacted, and in 2011 there were 92.

Abortion-rights groups believe women's health and reproductive rights are a winning platform, and Democrats have attempted to keep the conversation going, criticizing Republicans as out-of-touch on these issues.

Brattin defended his comments to Mother Jones as different from Akin's: "I'm just saying if there was a legitimate rape, you're going to make a police report, just as if you were robbed," Brattin said. "That's just common sense." Under his bill, "you have to take steps to show that you were raped.… And I'd think you'd be able to prove that."

Missouri is among the more conservative states when it comes to abortion rights. There is only one abortion clinic in the state, located in St. Louis. And the Republican-controlled Legislature enacted a law in September increasing the mandatory waiting period for women seeking an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours—the longest of any state. Only Utah and South Dakota also have 72-hour waiting periods.

Defending Missouri's controversial waiting period bill in April, Republican state Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger garnered attention for comparing getting an abortion to choosing a car. "In making a decision to buy a car, I put research in there to find out what to do," he said.

Brattin filed his bill at the beginning of this month, for consideration in next year's legislative session.


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