Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, a conservative Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, said in an interview broadcast Sunday that women's bodies can prevent pregnancies in the case of "a legitimate rape," adding that conception in such cases is rare.
Akin, a six-term congressman running against incumbent Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill, was asked in an interview on St. Louis television station KTVI if he would support abortions for women who have been raped.
"It seems to me first of all from what I understand from doctors that's really rare," Akin said. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," Akin said of a rape victim's chances of becoming pregnant.
Akin said in an emailed statement later Sunday that he "misspoke" during the interview, though the statement did not specify which points or comments.
"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," Akin's statement said.
Akin also said in the statement he believes "deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action."
Akin's comments also brought a swift rebuke from the campaign of presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
"Governor Romney and Congressman (Paul) 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.
McCaskill, who is seeking a second term, said Sunday in an emailed statement that she found the comments "offensive."
"It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape," McCaskill said. "The ideas that Todd Akin has expressed about the serious crime of rape and the impact on its victims are offensive."
This month, Akin won the state's Republican U.S. Senate primary by a comfortable margin. During the primary, Akin enhanced his standing with TV ads in which former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee praised him as "a courageous conservative" and "a Bible-based Christian" who "supports traditional marriage" and "defends the unborn."
Akin, a former state lawmaker who first won election to the U.S. House in 2000, also has a long-established base among evangelical Christians and was endorsed in the primary by more than 100 pastors.
Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, on Sunday called Akin's remarks "flat-out astonishing."
"That kind of rhetoric re-traumatizes sexual assault victims. ... That kind of talk, I believe, is intended to shame women," she told AP Radio.
Akin was interviewed on KTVI's "The Jaco Report," and also talked about numerous campaign issues, such as voter ID laws, the economy and Medicare. KTVI said the interview was conducted earlier in the week.
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