ELKHART — The now-infamous abortion comments from GOP U.S. Senate hopeful Richard Mourdock are having repercussions far beyond the confines of his heated contest.
It’s sparked strong reaction in Elkhart County, too, pro and con.
Shari Mellin of the Elkhart County Democratic Party, for one, said the comments are an indication that Mourdock is “over the edge” while Roxana Konopinski of a pro-life pregnancy resource center here said the situation is being unfairly exploited by Mourdock foes.
It’s also put into focus the abortion positions of the 2nd District U.S. House hopefuls, though not necessarily to the liking of all.
He’s pro-life, said the Libertarian hopeful Joe Ruiz, but with a $16 trillion national debt, he continued, “that should be the focus of the election.”
In a debate Tuesday between the hopefuls in the U.S. Senate race here in Indiana, Mourdock was asked whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest.
“I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God,” he responded, according to the Associated Press. “And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Some critics took the comment as Mourdock meaning that rape, itself, “is something that God intended to happen,” and the U.S. Senate hopeful, locked in a tight race with Democrat Joe Donnelly, faced a hailstorm of criticism. He held a press conference on Wednesday saying that he didn’t mean to suggest that God intends rape, according to the Associated Press, but rather that life, even when conception occurs during rape, “is precious.”
‘TOO EXTREME FOR INDIANA’
Of the three 2nd District U.S. House hopefuls, Democrat Brendan Mullen pounced first on the issue. His campaign issued a press release Wednesday morning equating Mourdock’s stance with that of GOP hopeful Jackie Walorski.
Walorski, like Mourdock, opposes abortion except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. Mullen opposes abortion except in cases of incest or rape or when the mother’s life is in danger.
Walorski, like Mourdock, “would also deny women who are victims of rape or incest and become pregnant the right to decide what to do,” Andy Reynolds, Mullen’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “That’s too extreme for Indiana, and it’s the kind of outside-the-mainstream, mean-spirited hyper-partisanship we have come to expect from Representative Jackie Walorski.”
Walorski, a former Indiana representative, accused the Mullen campaign of using the Mourdock controversy to distract from other issues.
“I believe Richard Mourdock’s apology was both necessary and appropriate,” she said in her own statement, alluding to Mourdock’s press conference on Wednesday. “My opponent is using this issue to try and distract voters from his support for Obamacare, more spending and the liberal Pelosi-Obama agenda.”
Walorski is staunchly pro-life and co-authored a bill in the Indiana House in 2006, which eventually fizzled, that would have made it a felony to perform an abortion except when necessary to protect the health of the mother.
Ruiz, for his part, said he’s personally pro-life, though he’d allow for exceptions depending on the circumstances, if the mother’s life is in danger, for instance. But he said it should be up to individual states, not the federal government, to decide whether abortion is permissible.
At any rate, there are more pressing issues now, notably the federal deficit. “I just don’t think this is the conversation for this election cycle,” Ruiz said.
Curiously, Walorski’s campaign initially issued a press release Wednesday, quoting her as saying she “strongly” disagreed with Mourdock’s statements Tuesday night, and urging him to apologize. It incorrectly stated her position as pro-life except in cases of incest, rape and when the life of the mother is in danger.
Later, the campaign withdrew the press release and a rep said it went out without Walorski having reviewed it first.
Konopinski, head of Reason Enough to Act, a pro-life, faith-based pregnancy resource center in Elkhart, defended Mourdock.
He may have spoken awkwardly when he made his controversial abortion remark. But, in her view, the meaning was obvious — while not condoning rape, Mourdock puts value on the life of those conceived in such extreme circumstances.
Rape “is never right, never condoned by anyone,” said Konopinski.
In the context of what she thinks was simply poor word choice, she blasted those who have heaped criticism on Mourdock. “I think it’s an opportunity, once again, to do the mudslinging that happens so often in campaigns,” she said.
Mellin, the Democratic Party leader in Elkahrt County, said Mourdock’s comments underscore what she sees as a tendency in the GOP to attack women and their health care rights. “They talk about jobs, but they seem to want to control women’s bodies,” she said.
Either way, Indiana political analyst Brian Howey said the controversy sparked by Mourdock’s comments isn’t good news for his candidacy. His remarks could even have adverse repercussions on other GOP hopefuls around the state.
“This is not good for Indiana Republicans,” he said.