GOP, Dems spar over who's more extreme on abortion in light of Akin controversy

Abortion, though rarely the kind of issue that decides presidential elections, has the ability to command headlines when one party or the other sees an advantage in raising the issue.

Or sometimes, as in the case of Rep. Todd Akin, an unexpected controversy can bring new attention to the age-old issue.

"Congressman Akin has brought the issue of abortion front and center," Doug Schoen, a former President Clinton adviser, said.

And now, the two parties are fighting over which one is more extreme on the issue.

Republicans have disavowed Akin, who has resisted intense pressure to drop out of his Missouri Senate race over comments about "legitimate rape." Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus, meanwhile, is trying to steer the focus back on the Democrats, complaining that the "the media and the Democrats are obsessed with our position on abortion."

He argues that it is President Obama's views that are far outside the mainstream.

"He favors partial-birth abortion, abortion at any level," Priebus said. "I just think it's an unbelievable position that most Americans would find repulsive."

In the Illinois legislature, Obama voted three times against legislation to protect the lives of infants who survived abortions -- known as partial-birth abortions.

Republicans argue that those views are extreme compared to most Americans.

"Sixty percent of Democrats do not support partial-birth abortions," Republican consultant Cherie Jacobus said. "Seventy percent of Americans do not support partial-birth abortions."

A Gallup poll last year found 64 percent of those asked favor laws banning the procedure, while only 31 percent oppose such laws.

Congress passed a bill by wide margins banning partial-birth abortions in 2003.

The Democratic platform this year, like in 2008, is silent on that issue, emphasizing instead that, "the Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports ... a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right."

The fact that it remains silent on partial birth abortion troubles pro-life forces.

Democrats, however, want to keep the focus on the Republican Party, and the GOP platform mirrors the one from 2008, which said, "We assert the inherent dignity and sanctity of all human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed."

That offered no exceptions either, such as those for rape and incest, though Mitt Romney says he favors such exceptions.

According to Schoen, platforms rarely help candidates, but can sometimes hurt.

"Extreme positions from either party can cause problems during the fall campaign, but I can't think back to a platform that helped elect a presidential candidate," he said.