Democrats are attacking Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock for saying that when a pregnancy occurs during a rape, the resulting life is "something that God intended."
The comment is roiling a tight race less than two weeks before the election, and threatens to spill over into the presidential contest. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has endorsed Mourdock and appeared in campaign ads for him.
Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said Wednesday that Romney disagrees with Mourdock's opposition to abortion in cases of rape and incest. But she says Romney still supports Mourdock's bid.
Mourdock’s remark came in response to a voter-submitted question toward the end of a debate last night with his opponents, Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly and Libertarian candidate Andrew Horning.
“I believe that life begins at conception,” said Mourdock, the state’s treasurer. “The only exception I have for—to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother [being at risk]. I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Mourdock said in a news conference Wednesday that he abhors any sexual violence and regrets it if his comment during the debate Tuesday night left another impression. He said he firmly believes that all life is precious and that abhors violence of any kind.
"If they came away with any impression other than that I truly regret it. I apologize if they came away. I've certainly been humbled by the fact that so many people think that somehow was an interpretation," Mourdock said.
New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte cancelled her plan to campaign Wednesday with Mourock. Ayotte's spokesman, Jeff Grappone, said that the senator disagrees with Mourdock's comments, which do not represent her views.
Other Republicans were split on their reaction to Mourdock on Wednesday morning.
Indiana gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence said Mourdock should apologize for the comment, and a spokeswoman for Republican congressional candidate Susan Brooks said she disagreed with Mourdock.
But the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has invested heavily in Mourdock and Indiana, said their candidates' words were being twisted.
"Richard and I, along with millions of Americans—including even Joe Donnelly—believe that life is a gift from God. To try and construe his words as anything other than a restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous," NRSC Chairman and Texas Sen. John Cornyn said in a statement.
Democrats, however, quickly pounced on the comment, highlighting Mourdock’s ties to Romney.
Jen Psaki, a campaign spokeswoman for Barack Obama, told reporters traveling to a campaign rally in Iowa Wednesday that the president thought Mourdock’s comments were “outrageous and demeaning to women.”
“This is a reminder that a Republican Congress working with a Republican President Mitt Romney would feel that women should not be able to make choices about their own health care,” Psaki said.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Obama campaign officials and the Democratic opposition research group American Bridge were among those who reminded voters on Twitter of Romney’s backing of Mourdock. The DCCC asked its 85,580 Twitter followers to “sign and retweet” a petition telling Romney to “denounce Richard Mourdock for his disgusting anti-woman views.”
American Bridge cut a video combining Romney’s endorsement of Mourdock and the Senate candidate’s statements of his own views, beginning with the pregnancy from rape is “something God intended” remark. The Democratic National Committee made a similar video.
Following the debate, Mourdock further explained that his point was “God creates life.”
“God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does,” Mourdock said in a prepared statement, adding, “for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick.”
Donnelly issued a statement calling his opponent’s comments “shocking” and saying that “it is stunning that he would be so disrespectful to survivors of rape.”
Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, criticized Romney’s response as “tepid,” while Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called Mourdock’s remarks “callous, insulting and completely out of touch.” Both groups called on Romney to rescind his endorsement of Mourdock.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Patty Murray of Washington described Mourdock’s comments as “heinous” and called on Romney to demand that the ad in which Romney appears alongside Mourdock be taken down.
“While Mitt Romney is rightly distancing himself from Richard Mourdock today, his ad endorsing Mourdock’s extreme candidacy continues to air in Indiana,” Murray said in a statement. “If Mitt Romney is serious about repudiating these heinous views on rape, he will take down this ad immediately.”
Romney voiced his support for Mourdock in an ad that began airing Oct. 22 in Evansville, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.
Obama’s re-election campaign has aired ads saying Romney would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Romney’s campaign, which wants to focus on the economy, is running an ad in some Virginia markets featuring a woman who says Romney “doesn’t oppose contraception at all” and “thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother’s life.”
The Indiana contest is among the most closely watched in the U.S. Senate, along with races in Massachusetts, Missouri and Virginia. Republicans must hold all five of their competitive seats in the Nov. 6 election and pick up four seats to win control of the Senate, which Democrats control 53-47.
An anti-tax Tea Party favorite, Mourdock defeated six-term Republican incumbent Richard Lugar by 20 percentage points in a May primary with an anti-tax, anti-Washington message. Mourdock’s general election contest with Donnelly is rated as a toss-up by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.