Americans witnessed a remarkable drama this week when some of our most exalted politicians frantically scrambled to reassure voters that they, too, believed that the United States ought to permit the deliberate killing of at least some innocent human beings.
They apparently did so to persuade the public they are caring, compassionate and -- above all -- reasonable people.
The drama started when Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee in the U.S. Senate race in Missouri, expressed his view that no innocent human being ought to be deliberately killed.
However, that was not the only thing Akin expressed.
"What about in the case of rape. Should it (abortion) be legal or not?" Charles Jaco of KTVI in St. Louis asked Akin in an interview broadcast over the weekend.
"Well, you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well, how do you slice this particularly tough ethical question," said Akin. "It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
Akin's answer had two distinct parts. In the first, he made a claim about the physiological likelihood of a rape victim conceiving a child as the result of the criminal act committed against her. In the second, he made a policy statement about whether aborting such a child ought to be permitted.
The first part of Akin's answer was worse than gratuitous. It made a claim he could not back up and did so in language that itself raised questions.
But what about the second part of Akin's statement -- that rapists ought to be punished but not children conceived through rape?
Is this a logical, morally defensible, even laudable and courageous position?
A good place to find the basic premises for conducting that analysis is on the website of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. It includes a statement explaining Romney's position on abortion.
"Mitt Romney is pro-life," says the first sentence of this statement. "Mitt believes that life begins at conception and wishes that the laws of our nation reflected that view," it further says. "Because the good heart of America knows no boundaries, a commitment to protecting life should not stop at the water's edge. Taking innocent life is always wrong and always tragic, wherever it happens," it also says.