By John Eligon
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In an effort to explain his stance on abortion, Representative Todd Akin, the Republican Senate nominee from Missouri, provoked ire across the political spectrum on Sunday by saying that in instances of what he called “legitimate rape,” women’s bodies somehow blocked an unwanted pregnancy.
Asked in an interview on a St. Louis television station about his views on abortion, Mr. Akin, a six-term member of Congress who is backed by Tea Party conservatives, made it clear that his opposition to the practice was nearly absolute, even in instances of rape.
“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Mr. Akin said of pregnancies from rape. “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 of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”
The comments, made during an interview with KTVI-TVthat was posted on Sunday on the station’s Web site, provoked howls of outrage from Democrats and women’s rights organizations. Senator Claire McCaskill, the Democrat who will face Mr. Akin in the November election, immediately took to Twitter with a blunt response. “As a woman & former prosecutor who handled 100s of rape cases,” she wrote, “I’m stunned by Rep Akin’s comments about victims this AM.”
Mr. Akin quickly backtracked from his taped comments, saying he “misspoke.”
“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,” Mr. Akin, who has a background in engineering and is a member of the House science committee, said in a statement. “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.”
The Republican presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan was quick to distance itself from Mr. Akin’s remarks.
“Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement,” the campaign said. “A Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.”
Ms. McCaskill, who is seeking a second term in the Senate, is seen as one of the most politically vulnerable Democratic incumbents on the ballot this fall, beset by her ties to President Obama and tens of millions in dollars spent against her by outside advocacy groups.
Mr. Akin, 65, won the Senate Republican primary this month with strong support from Missouri’s religious conservatives. But he was also helped by Ms. McCaskill, whose campaign spent nearly $2 million on ads portraying Mr. Akin as ultraconservative. It was a clear attempt to bolster his candidacy among more conservative primary voters while gambling that the independents and moderate Republicans needed to win the election would be turned off by his views on social issues.
Political observers have said Ms. McCaskill’s best chance of defending her seat, and perhaps the Democrats’ majority in the Senate, is to paint her opponent as extreme.
“Claire McCaskill will certainly amplify this remark, make sure everybody’s heard it,” said Dave Robertson, a professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Mike Talboy, the Democratic minority leader in the Missouri Legislature, said that he had spoken to members of both parties about Mr. Akin’s comments and had found uniform outrage.
“Nobody has defended him,” Mr. Talboy said. “That, I think, is pretty telling.”
Brian Walsh, the communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, declined to address what impact Mr. Akin’s comments might have on the Senate race. But he wrote in an e-mail that “Congressman Akin did the right thing by quickly correcting the record and acknowledging that he misspoke.” He said the election would be a referendum on Ms. McCaskill’s voting record and support for the president’s agenda.
If this state is truly aligning itself with more conservative values, some believe that Mr. Akin’s comments might actually help him politically.
Jamie Tomek, president of the Missouri branch of the National Organization for Women, who lives in the county where Mr. Akin grew up and says she knows his parents, said she was not surprised by the statement and did not think it would cost him much ahead of the election.
“He is very far right and very likely to make those types of statements,” Ms. Tomek said.