By James Fuller
In contrast to a fellow Republican lawmaker's recent comments, Congresswoman Judy Biggert Friday received applause from hundreds of attendees of the National Sexual Assault Conference.
Biggert also received the stamp of approval for her candidacy in the 11th Congressional District race by the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault in publicly advocating reauthorization of a version of the Violence Against Women Act that some in the GOP may find difficult to get behind.
Biggert came out strong against Missouri Congressman Todd Akin's recent "legitimate rape" comment in addressing attendees of the Chicago conference.
Biggert repeated her earlier position that Akin's comments were "uninformed" and "offensive," drawing applause from the attendees.
"We all know that oftentimes rape does lead to pregnancy," Biggert said. "For this, and many other reasons, the service that you provide to victims of rape and sexual assault are critical, as is a woman's right to make her own decisions about her own body. Frankly, I don't believe Mr. Akin's views are shared by any member of Congress. But I hope his comments can be used by the sexual assault community to reclaim and further your mission to increase public awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault and rape."
Specifically, Biggert said she hopes the public spotlight on the issue pushes Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act when the legislative session resumes in September. In a break from fellow Republicans, Biggert said she supports the version of the reauthorization promoted by Senate Democrats.
That version includes clarity and enhanced protection against rape and sexual assault for residents of Native American reservations as well as lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender victims. Biggert also supports a provision that would remove the danger of deportation for illegal immigrants who report domestic violence.
Biggert's rival in the 11th Congressional District, Democrat Bill Foster, agrees with her on the issue.
"I support the full reauthorization of the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act," Foster said. "Protections for all individuals who are victims of sexual assault should not be a partisan issue."
All those pending changes to the act received applause from conference attendees as Biggert voiced her support.
In an interview after her comments, Biggert said she hopes Akin's comments serve as a teaching moment about the true nature and impact of rape. However, she is not convinced there will be any major changes to the Republican Party platform at the upcoming convention.
"The party platform has really been around for decades the way that it's written," Biggert said. "I think there is room in the party for everybody. But I have my own platform just like most of our members do."
That said, Biggert called on Akin to bow out of his Senate race.
"It would be better for the party that we have a candidate that could win," Biggert said. "I think he should resign, but I think that's really up to him."
Polly Poskin, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said Biggert is "courageous" for speaking out against a member of her own party.
Poskin said she does hope the Republican Party takes a hard look at both its platform and getting behind the changes to the Violence Against Women Act that Biggert supports.
"We are talking about people who, short of murder, have had the most heinous experience one could imagine," Poskin said. "You want every human being to know that we'll do everything possible to keep you safe, to find your attacker and make sure you have the support you need to recover. Right now, it feels like we're protecting the criminals by not reauthorizing the act.
Poskin said there's an daily battle against the kind of ignorance expressed by Akin.
She called his remarks "a dismissive and insensitive and horrendous thing to say."
"If a rape doesn't result in a conviction, then people tend to believe it wasn't rape," Poskin said. "Just because the justice system can't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt doesn't mean that it didn't occur. I don't think Rep. Akin is alone in his belief. And to imply that women have so much control over their body that they could expel a pregnancy, and yet he doesn't want to institute the kind of laws that would truly give women control over their bodies is distressing to say the least."