GOP Congressman: "Legitimate Rape" Rarely Leads to Pregnancy

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 20 2012 8:19 AM

GOP Senate Challenger Says "Legitimate Rape" Rarely Leads to Pregnancy

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Rep. Todd Akin, seen here meeting with a TeenNick Halo Award-honoree Bryan Jackson (L) in 2009, is under fire for his recent comments about rape and pregnancy

Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Nickelodeon.

Sen. Claire McCaskill and her fellow Democrats got their wish earlier this month when Rep. Todd Akin won a three-way Republican nomination battle in Missouri over two less conservative opponents. On Sunday, Akin demonstrated exactly why Democrats believe that going head-to-head with the tea party-backed Akin gives McCaskill her best shot at holding on to her seat.

Speaking to KTVI-TV, a Fox affiliate in St. Louis, in an interviewed that aired Sunday, Akin explained his no-exceptions opposition to abortion—including in cases of rape—and in doing so no doubt prompted plenty of hand-wringing and head-slapping among GOP leaders from the Show-Me State to the Beltway.

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"It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy from rape) is really rare," Akin said. "If it's 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."

American Bridge, a Democratic super PAC, wasted little time getting the clip online (embedded above), and the ensuing coverage of Akin's questionable grasp on how the female body works left Republicans scrambling for cover, including Akin himself.

"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," the Senate hopeful said in a statement (via the Washington Post). "I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action."

Mitt Romney's camp followed with its own statement Sunday, stressing that the Missouri congressman doesn't speak for the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. "Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape," the campaign said.

While some Dems will likely look to use Akin's "legitimate rape" remarks as a way to ding Romney, the more pressing concern for Republicans may be in the McCaskill-Akin race itself. McCaskill is seen as one of the more vulnerable Democratic senators this fall, and she's routinely been polling behind Akin for months. But Akin's tin-eared defense of his views on abortion clearly gives McCaskill and her allies hope for a comeback.

His remarks even prompted a handful of unnamed Republican operatives to wonder aloud to Politico about whether it may be necessary for him to drop out of the race for the sake of his party's chances of reclaiming Congress' upper chamber this fall. Such speculation seems unfounded, particularly given Akin would have to decide to step down himself (deadline: tomorrow), but it nonetheless suggests how seriously his misstep is being viewed on both sides of the aisle.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.