Pressure on US congressman Todd Akin grows after rape remark

 

A Republican Senate candidate under fire for his comments about rape and pregnancy was under intense pressure to drop out of the race ahead of a significant deadline today. Republicans feared the turmoil could damage their hopes for winning control of the US Senate.

Congressman Todd Akin vowed to fight on despite the storm over his comments that women's bodies can prevent pregnancies in cases of "legitimate rape." He was once seen as a strong challenger to incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill in the Midwestern state of Missouri.

But ominous signs were mounting against the six-term legislator, notably the apparent loss of millions of dollars in campaign advertising money from his own party.

Akin has pledged to keep the campaign alive, even as some in his party urge him to step aside. He posted an apology video online today but made no mention of the race.

The decision has some urgency. Missouri election law allows candidates to withdraw 11 weeks before Election Day. That means the deadline to exit the 6 November election is 5 pm (Central Time Zone) today. Otherwise, a court order would be needed to remove a name from the ballot.

"I was told the decision has to be made by 5 tomorrow, but I was calling you and letting you know that I'm announcing today that we're in," Akin told radio host Sean Hannity.

In a radio interview with former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, Akin repeatedly apologized for the remarks but also vowed to stay in the race.

"The good people of Missouri nominated me, and I'm not a quitter," Akin said.

The uproar began Sunday, when St. Louis television station KTVI aired an interview in which Akin was asked 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. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," Akin said.

Later on Sunday, Akin released a statement saying that he "misspoke." In the interviews with Huckabee and Hannity, he apologized repeatedly, acknowledging that rape can lead to conception.

"Rape is never legitimate. It's an evil act. It's committed by violent predators," Akin said. "I used the wrong words the wrong way."

But the comments drew a sharp rebuke from fellow Republicans, including presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his vice presidential choice, Rep. Paul Ryan.

The Senate's top Republican said Akin's comments about rape might "prevent him from effectively representing" the Republican Party. Mitch McConnell called on Akin to "take time with his family" to consider whether he should continue in the Senate race.

Missouri has grown increasingly conservative in recent years, and McCaskill is seen as vulnerable. She was not among those calling for her opponent to get out of the race.

Akin also apparently lost a key source of funding. Sen. John Cornyn, head of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, told Akin that $5 million in advertising set aside for Missouri will be spent elsewhere and that Akin will get no other help from the committee, according to a committee official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the conversation was private.

Republican frustration grew today. Two party officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to irritate Akin, said party officials were having trouble reaching him last night and this morning.

Akin campaign spokesman Ryan Hite declined today to reveal Akin's whereabouts and said the campaign may release information about his public schedule later.

At least one outside group that has pounded McCaskill with ads, the Karl Rove-backed Crossroads organization, also pulled its ads from Missouri.

Akin posted a video to YouTube early today in which he described himself as a compassionate father of two daughters, apologized for his poor choice of words and clarified that he understands the possible outcome of rape.

"Fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The truth is rape has many victims," he said.

President Barack Obama said yesterday that Akin's comments underscore why politicians — most of whom are men — should not make health decisions on behalf of women.

"Rape is rape," Obama said. And the idea of distinguishing among types of rape "doesn't make sense to the American people and certainly doesn't make sense to me."

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said a woman who is raped "has no control over ovulation, fertilization or implantation of a fertilized egg (i.e., pregnancy). To suggest otherwise contradicts basic biological truths."

Between 10,000 and 15,000 abortions nationwide occur each year among women whose pregnancies resulted from rape or incest. An unknown number of babies are born to rape victims, the group said.

Research on the prevalence of rape and rape-related pregnancies is spotty. One estimate published in 1996 said about 5 percent of rapes result in pregnancy, or about 32,000 pregnancies among adult women each year.

One anti-abortion group expressed support for Akin, while another called on him to step aside.

Missouri Right to Life, which opposes a woman's right to get an abortion even in cases of rape and incest, said Akin's "consistent defense of innocent unborn human life clearly contrasts with the anti-life position of Senator Claire McCaskill."

But the Christian Defense Coalition called on him to withdraw. The coalition's leader, the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, called Akin's comments "offensive, repugnant and troubling."

The idea about rape and pregnancy has been raised in anti-abortion circles for at least three decades.

Leon Holmes, onetime head of Arkansas Right to Life, wrote in a 1980 letter to a newspaper that concern for rape victims "is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with the same frequency as snow in Miami." Holmes went on to become a federal judge.

Abortion foes in the Pennsylvania and North Carolina legislatures have made similar statements. And in Arkansas in 1998, Republican Senate candidate Fay Boozman came under fire for saying pregnancies from rape were uncommon. He apologized and later acknowledged that his unsuccessful campaign never recovered from the criticism.

AP

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