U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri says he "misspoke" when he said rape victims have a natural ability to avoid pregnancy if the rape is "legitimate."
"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," said the Republican congressman, a Tea Party Caucus member who won a GOP primary Aug. 7 to challenge Democrat Claire McCaskill for her Senate seat.
Akin was asked by Fox Broadcasting Co. affiliate KTVI-TV, St. Louis, if abortion should be legal in the case of rape.
"From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare," Akin said in the interview, broadcast Sunday. "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. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
Akin's comments drew an immediate rebuke from McCaskill, who is in a tough fight against Akin ahead of the Nov. 6 election and who has pressed the case that Akin is too extreme a conservative.
"It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape," she said in a statement. "The ideas that Todd Akin has expressed about the serious crime of rape and the impact on its victims are offensive."
McCaskill noted in a separate statement on Twitter she was a county prosecutor in the 1990s "who handled 100s of rape cases."
Twitter user Michelle9647 posted, "The female body also has ways of shutting down your whole election." That message was one of dozens chiding Akin under the hashtag #LegitimateRape within hours of the broadcast.
Akin's follow-up statement said people who commit rape "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."
His statement didn't retract his assertion that rape victims are unlikely to become pregnant because of some biological defense mechanism.
In 1991, Akin suggested women may claim rape "in a real messy divorce as a tool and a legal weapon to beat up on the husband," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. In 2005, he voted in the House against creating a sex-offender registry, The Hill reported
A three-year study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1996 said an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year in the United States, or 5 percent of rape victims of reproductive age, 12 to 45.
"Rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency," an abstract of the study's conclusion said. "It is a cause of many unwanted pregnancies and is closely linked with family and domestic violence.
Akin posted a message on his campaign's Twitter page Sunday night: "To be clear, all of us understand that rape can result in pregnancy & I have great empathy for all victims. I regret misspeaking."
His post still did not retract his original assertion or offer a source for it.
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