Mourdock’s Opponent Just the Lesser of Two Evils

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Photo: Michael Conroy/Corbis

It’s become almost routine: Another week, another Republican candidate making horrible remarks about rape victims, another outcry from women’s groups, another bounce in the polls for his Democratic opponent. This time, the offending Republican is Richard Mourdock, a Senate candidate from Indiana, who declared during a debate that pregnancies resulting from rape are “something God intended to happen.”

Today the Obama campaign called Mourdock’s remarks “outrageous and demeaning to women.” Another compelling anecdote in what the New York Times calls “a Democratic narrative that depicts the Republican party as out of step with women.” After Mitt Romney said he disagreed with Mourdock’s comments but would maintain his endorsement, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee circulated a petition asking Romney to “denounce Richard Mourdock for his disgusting anti-woman views.”

I’ll pass on signing my name to that.

I know we’re in the final weeks of a hotly contested campaign season, but it’s hard to take the Democratic party seriously in this case. Mourdock’s opponent, Democrat Joe Donnelly, also believes “life begins at conception” and opposes abortion except for cases of rape and incest or to save the life of the mother. Last year, he co-sponsored HR 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, that would have banned abortion coverage in state health-insurance exchanges. Maybe he didn’t make a stupid comment about divinely inspired pregnancies as a result of rape, but he does cite his faith as a reason he opposes women’s right to choose. NARAL gives him a score of only 20 percent. He voted twice to block Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal funding.

And I’m just supposed to be outraged about Mourdock?

After the debate, Donnelly said he was shocked by Mourdock’s comments, and that his God would never intend a pregnancy to result from rape. The Donnelly campaign quickly moved to position itself as the woman-friendly alternative: Donnelly held a “brief press event” this morning outside the Julian Center, an Indianapolis domestic violence shelter — though an official at the Center was quick to tell the Cut that the event was “held on a public sidewalk” and “not affiliated” with them.

“Let me say I am pro-life, but this controversy is not about pro-life,” said Donnelly at the press event. “It is about Mr. Mourdock's words and his continuation of extreme positions. His words were extreme, but maybe as important, hurtful to survivors of sexual abuse. There are too many hardworking people in the building behind us who deal with this on a daily basis.”

Chances are, the women who have sought refuge at this shelter have, at some point, also sought medical care from Planned Parenthood — another place where “hard-working people” deal with rape and its consequences on a daily basis. I don’t care how a politician justifies his desire to legislate women’s medical decisions — whether his God would make rape victims carry their pregnancies to term or whether his marginally more compassionate God would axe federal funding for pap smears and mammograms. You know what else is hurtful and insulting to women? Reducing our fundamental rights to a campaign stunt.

When Todd Akin declared women’s bodies to be magical rape-repellers last month, it was easy to point to his opponent as a shining opposite. McCaskill is not only the proud owner of a uterus herself, but she’s scored a perfect 100 by NARAL. With such a clear contrast to Akin, Democrats could express their outrage in all sincerity. This time, it’s different. Donnelly should consider himself very, very lucky. He shares Mourdock’s beliefs, just not, as Mourdock puts it, his “less than fully articulate use of words.”

I get it: Donnelly is the lesser of two evils. I understand how bills are passed in a two-party system. I understand why even an anti-choice Democrat is probably a better choice for women than an anti-choice Republican. But it’s easy to forget, in the heat of campaign season, that there are real consequences — especially for women — for failing to call out the members of the supposedly more progressive party whose views are eerily close to those of Akin and Mourdock.

We tend to realize long after the votes have been tallied, when we watch some Democrats in Congress vote with their Republican colleagues to defund Planned Parenthood or strip abortion coverage from health-care legislation, that the problem isn’t just anti-choice Republicans. It’s all politicians who want to define the circumstances under which abortion is acceptable and accessible.

Where’s the petition asking me to denounce all candidates who want to tell women when and whether they can have an abortion? Now that’s something I’d like to sign.