The Washington Post

Allen OK’d judge who doubted rape led to pregnancy

Updated, 6:25 p.m.: Former senator George Allen (R) on Monday joined the bipartisan chorus criticizing Rep. Todd Akin for comments suggesting that rape rarely results in pregnancy.

Former Republican senator and Virginia governor George Allen speaking in June. (Jeffrey MacMillan)

But as a senator eight years ago, Allen voted to confirm a federal judge who years earlier, in terms even starker than Akin’s, had dismissed the notion that rape can result in pregnancy.

James Leon Holmes, now a federal judge in Arkansas, had made the assertion in a 1980 letter backing a constitutional ban on abortion.

“[C]oncern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami,” wrote Holmes, a former president of Arkansas Right to Life.

Controversy about Holmes’s comments threatened his confirmation in 2004, though Holmes had backed away from what was by then a decades-old statement.

“I have to acknowledge that my own rhetoric, particularly when I first became involved in the issue [of abortion] in 1980 and perhaps some years thereafter, sometimes has been unduly strident and inflammatory,” he wrote in a letter after his nomination by President George W. Bush. “The sentence about rape victims which was made in a letter to an editor in 1980 is particularly troublesome to me from a distance of 23 years later. Regardless of the merits of the issue, the articulation in that sentence reflects an insensitivity for which there is no excuse and for which I apologize.”

The Senate ultimately voted 51 to 46 to appoint Holmes to the U.S. District Court in Little Rock. Allen voted in favor of Holmes. His Republican colleague from Virginia, Sen. John W. Warner, voted against Holmes.

Arkansas’s two Democratic senators at the time — both women — said they had accepted Holmes’s apologies and believed he would follow the law fairly.

Allen’s campaign declined to comment, except to note that Holmes had made the statement many years prior and had apologized for it. Kaine’s campaign declined to comment, but the Democratic Party of Virginia weighed in.

“If George Allen really felt strongly about Todd Akin’s offensive remarks, he would not have voted to confirm a judge who said pregnancies from rape are “as common as snowfall in Miami,” and would not support a federal personhood bill that would ban all abortions and could jeopardize access to contraception,” said party spokesman Brian Coy.

Holmes still sits on the bench in Little Rock, where he recently completed a stint as chief judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas. He did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Akin, a Missouri Republican, set off a firestorm over the weekend by saying that rape rarely results in pregnancy.

“From what I understand from doctors ... if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” he said in an interview that aired Sunday.

He later posted on his Facebook page that he misspoke.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.



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