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 remains unofficial until a formal vote by the convention delegates but the staff of the Republican National Committee sent PolitiFact the current text of the section on abortion.
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.
As for whether states would have the flexibility to set their own conditions for abortions, Suzanne Novack, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in the same magazine article, "It wouldn't go back to the states. It would be the law of the land."
We should note that the current wording in the GOP platform has been in place at least since 2004. Republican candidates have run on that platform and have endorsed exceptions for abortion in cases of rape and incest. As PolitiFact has reported before, since about 2000, the human life amendments introduced in Congress have included those exceptions, too.
However in 2008, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., failed in an effort to include the rape and incest exceptions in the platform itself. Also, O’Steen says while the National Right to Life Committee has endorsed Romney, the "ideal policy would have an exception to protect the health of the mother only."
An "Akin" amendment?
So is the personhood amendment fairly described as the Akin amendment?
As far as we can tell, there is no Akin amendment. We were unable to reach Crist to ask what he meant by the term. O’Steen told us that Akin "was nowhere close to the platform committee."
Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., has joined Akin on legislation to limit Medicaid funding for abortions to cases of ‘forcible rape.’ PolitiFact has found that Ryan opposes the rape exception for abortion, as does Akin.
The advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America told us that "someone started to refer to the abortion language in the GOP platform as the "Akin amendment" because it did not explicitly include exceptions for rape and incest. That said, Akin didn’t play a role in drafting that language."
We found an article that credits the Obama campaign for applying that label to the GOP platform position on abortion, which we believe is quite a stretch given Akin has not been involved.
Crist said the GOP platform includes "the Akin amendment ... which bans abortion, even for rape victims."
The platform clearly opposes most abortions but is vague on the details. It does not specifically say that it bans abortion for rape victims.
Also, there is no official Akin amendment, and the legal implications of a human life amendment and some versions of personhood bills are debatable.
However, there is no dispute that all such measures would nullify Roe v. Wade. Some leading anti-abortion groups would like to ban abortions even in cases of rape and believe personhood bills would help them do this.
We rate the statement Half True.