Mitt Romney's campaign on Sunday quickly condemned a comment from Republican Rep. Todd Akin (Mo.) claiming that pregnancy from rape was rare and said the presumptive GOP nominee and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), would not take steps to block abortions in cases of rape.
"Gov. Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin's statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape," said Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg in a statement.
"No, we'll leave that to them to sort out," Romney adviser Stuart Stevens said, according to the Washington Post.
The campaign's response came after Akin, the Republican Party's Senate candidate in the key swing state of Missouri, said that "legitimate rape" rarely resulted in pregnancy during an interview with a St. Louis television station.
Akin, in the interview, was asked to explain his opposition to abortion for pregnancies caused by rape.
"It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," he said.
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Akin said later, in a statement, that he “misspoke,” claiming that his comments did not “reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.”
He stood by his opposition to abortion, saying, “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.”
Akin's comments sparked a firestorm and the Obama campaign used the opportunity to hammer Romney and Ryan's own positions on abortion, accusing them of contradicting themselves in their statement.
“While Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are working overtime to distance themselves from Rep. Todd Akin’s comments on rape, they are contradicting their own records,” said Obama campaign spokesperson Lis Smith, in a statement.
“Mr. Romney supports the Human Life Amendment, which would ban abortion in all instances, even in the case of rape and incest. In fact, that amendment is a central part of the Republican Party’s platform that is being voted on tomorrow. And, as a Republican leader in the House, Mr. Ryan worked with Mr. Akin to try to pass laws that would ban abortion in all cases, and even narrow the definition of ‘rape,’” she added.
“Every day, women across America grapple with difficult and intensely personal health decisions—decisions that should ultimately be between a woman and her doctor. These decisions are not made any easier when Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan treat women’s health as a matter of partisan politics,” said Smith.
Obama’s campaign, which already holds a strong edge among female voters, has made Ryan’s stance on abortion and other women’s-health issues a cornerstone of its attacks on the new GOP vice presidential pick.
“Make sure the women in your life know: Paul Ryan supports banning all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest,” read a tweet from Obama’s official Twitter account on Aug. 12, a day after Ryan was tapped for the GOP ticket.
Ryan, who is Catholic, opposes abortion except when the life of the mother is at risk and co-sponsored a bill which would define human life as beginning at the moment of fertilization. Pro-abortion-rights groups said the measure would limit access to contraception.
Romney also believes in exceptions for rape and incest.
Akin holds a steady lead over his Democratic opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), in the Senate race, but Sunday’s controversy raised concerns among Republicans that his remarks could inflict lasting damage on his campaign. McCaskill slammed his comments as “offensive.”
This story was updated at 1:21 p.m.
Emily Goodin contributed.