Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the chairman of the Republican platform committee worked to distance their party from a Missouri Senate candidate’s remark that “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancy.
The comment yesterday by Todd Akin, 65, a congressman who is running to oust one-term U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, quickly went viral on the Internet, sparking outrage from women’s groups and Democrats and prompting him to issue an e-mailed retraction.
In a phone interview this morning, Romney sought to separate his campaign from the remarks, telling National Review Online that Akin’s comments were “insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive,” he said.
Akin’s comments are receiving attention in a campaign where Democrats are criticizing Republicans as being hostile toward women. In the interview aired on the Fox affiliate in St. Louis, Akin said abortion shouldn’t be allowed in rape cases, in part because pregnancy was unlikely to result.
“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” said Akin, who has served in the U.S. House since 2001. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Retracting his comments in a statement later yesterday, he said: “In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.”
“Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve,” Akin said.
In Tampa, where Republicans are deliberating their party’s platform ahead of next week’s nominating convention there, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell condemned Akin’s comments as “absolutely wrong,” saying “they appear to be based on based on bad science, bad facts.”
McDonnell, the platform committee’s chairman, said in an interview that any discussion of rape “absolutely should condemn violence in every form against women.”
“So while many of us strongly support the right to life, we also strongly disagree with these comments as representing policies that the pro-life community should embrace,” McDonnell said. The abortion plank of the platform will “affirm our view and support for the right to life” that has been part of the Republican platform for “several decades,” he said.
The Republican platform statement on abortion doesn’t make an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
“We don’t get into those details” because as long as the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion stands, “these are matters of faith and morals,” McDonnell said.
Earlier today, Romney’s campaign issued a statement saying the former Massachusetts governor and his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, support abortion rights for rape victims.
“Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in the statement.
While the statement was consistent with Romney’s position, it marked a departure from Ryan’s previous support for making abortion legal only when a woman’s life is at risk.
Ryan sponsored a fetal personhood bill during the last Congress that would effectively criminalize abortion without exceptions for rape victims. He also co-sponsored an act with Akin in 2011 that tried to narrow the definition of rape to curtail abortions.
Only in cases of “forcible rape,” according to the measure, would a woman be eligible to have an abortion covered under insurance.
“I’m as pro-life as a person gets,” Ryan told the Weekly Standard magazine in 2010.
The Democratic-controlled Senate on March 1 rejected a proposal to cancel a requirement from President Barack Obama’s administration that health insurers cover contraception without charge for insured employees of religiously affiliated institutions.
Only one Republican, retiring Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, opposed the measure.
Akin beat St. Louis businessman John Brunner and former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman in a Republican primary on Aug. 7. Republicans have produced an onslaught of negative ads tying McCaskill to Obama, whose popularity has fallen in the state.
In an e-mailed statement, McCaskill, who has trailed Akin in polls, called Akin’s comments “offensive.”
“It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape,” she said.
In the days before the primary, McCaskill and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee unveiled an ad calling Akin “too conservative” for Missouri, which may have given him a boost with primary voters.
U.S. Senator Scott Brown, a Massachusetts Republican who is locked in a tight race against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, called on Akin to resign his Senate nomination.
“As a husband and father of two young women, I found Todd Akin’s comments about women and rape outrageous, inappropriate and wrong,” Brown said in a statement on his website.
“There is no place in our public discourse for this type of offensive thinking,” Brown said. “Not only should he apologize, but I believe Representative Akin’s statement was so far out of bounds that he should resign the nomination for U.S. Senate in Missouri.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Kathleen Hunter in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Lisa Lerer in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire at email@example.com
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