Two weeks after U.S. Rep Todd Akin rocked the country with his “legitimate rape” comment, U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett made a similar statement on rape’s connection to pregnancy, which his office says has been taken out of context.
In YouTube videos, Bartlett told a town hall in Frederick on Aug. 30 that few pregnancies actually result from rape.
“If you really — there are very few pregnancies as a result of rape, fortunately, and incest, compared to the usual abortion,” he said in the video. “What is the percentage of abortions from rape? It is tiny. It is a tiny, tiny percentage.”
Lisa Wright, spokeswoman for the Republican representative, said Tuesday that his comments at the meeting were clearly about the proportion of abortions connected to rape, and that his was an accurate statement.
When asked if the 6th District incumbent misspoke in saying few pregnancies result from rape, she said that was one phrase in his whole statement, which was that very few of the pregnancies that end in abortion are a result of a rape or incest.
Later in the meeting, addressing a comment from the audience that there are 20,000 pregnancies a year from rape, Bartlett began again to repeat his earlier phrasing, but clarified himself.
“The percentage of pregnancies, the percentage of abortions for rape as compared to overall abortions, it’s a tiny, tiny percentage,” he said in the video.
Last month, Akin (R-Missouri) said that if it’s a “legitimate rape,” women’s bodies can prevent pregnancies. Wright said nothing connects Bartlett’s position with Akin’s.
“It is only by tortured or opportunistic misinterpretation that any different meaning can be attributed,” she said.
Bartlett denounced Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment in a statement Aug. 21.
“I have known Todd Akin for over a decade and consider him a friend, but his recent comments about rape are offensive and wrong,” Bartlett said in the statement. Along with prominent Republicans, he called for Akin to end his campaign for Senate, which the congressman so far has refused to do.
As summer turns the corner, the race for Bartlett’s seat is heating up.
Bartlett, 85, of Buckeystown is focusing on appearances and placing advertising after a summer of meandering along the campaign trail.
Meanwhile, his Democratic opponent, Potomac businessman John Delaney, has hosted meet-and-greet barbecues across the district.
He has appeared at various events and house parties, where hosts invite friends and neighbors to get up close and personal with the candidate.
The candidates will have a chance to go head-to-head on the issues in upcoming debates, but they continue to swipe at each other from afar. Democrats have accused Bartlett of changing his position on when abortion is acceptable.
The Maryland Democratic Party went after Bartlett on Twitter with a series of tweets accusing the congressman of avoiding questions about his positions on rape and abortion.
“Keep whining @Roscoe Bartlett,” the party tweeted Aug. 21. “We are going to keep talking about how you & Akin want to redefine rape.”
After several tweets, Bartlett’s campaign manager, Ted Dacey, responded on Aug. 23 in an email: “Congressman Bartlett has never hidden the fact that he is pro-life, but any attempt by Democrats to link him to the actions and words of Todd Akin is absurd.”
The topic will not be fading away anytime soon, according to the state head of the Democratic Party.
“He has a confusing record on this issue,” Matthew Verghese, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said of Bartlett. “It runs to his whole core message to being a principled elected official ... he says he is unabashedly pro-life, but says yes on some days to exceptions, and no on others. It’s [Bartlett’s position] is not authentic.”
Bartlett co-sponsored the Sanctity of Life Act in 2007, 2009 and 2011, a bill that would outlaw abortion altogether by declaring life to begin at conception. He also supported a 2001 resolution that prohibited abortion except when the mother’s life is at stake.
In addition, he was a co-sponsor of House Resolution 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which would have limited federal funding to abortions in cases of “forcible rape,” but not for statutory or coerced rape.
Bartlett said in an email that he is anti-abortion with three exceptions: when the life of the mother is at risk, and in cases of rape and incest.
Bartlett would not comment on his change of heart on exceptions for abortion, despite repeated requests by The Gazette for a response. In a 2011 Gallup poll, 75 percent of Americans were in favor of abortion in cases of rape or incest.
Delaney’s website does not yet include a platform plank specifically targeting women’s issues, but the candidate has stated publicly that he is pro-choice.
Justin Schall, his campaign manager, said, “John believes women’s rights are at the very core of our country’s identity, and he welcomes the chance to discuss them as an important issue on this campaign.”
Meanwhile, while nothing is firmed up yet on direct candidate debates, according to campaign officials, Delaney has accepted eight invitations to debate Bartlett, Schall said.
Bartlett’s camp says it is reviewing debate invitations and will make a decision soon.