(RNN) – Todd Akin, Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Missouri, apologized on Monday for saying rape rarely leads to pregnancy, but he continued to distinguish between types of rape.
Akin appeared as a guest on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's radio show. When asked about what he meant by the term "legitimate rape," he said, "I was talking about forcible rape, and it was absolutely the wrong word."
"I also know that people do become pregnant from rape," said Akin, a six-term Congressman. "I didn't mean to imply that wasn't the case; it does happen. And it's also terrible, particularly the most terrible of all. I really just want to apologize to those that I have hurt. I have spoken in error."
He described his controversial and factually unfounded comments – that a woman's body will shut down during a rape to prevent pregnancy – as "serious mistakes." He added he was a father of two daughters, wanted tough justice for sexual predators and has a compassionate heart for victims of sexual assault.
"I have known people who have been raped," he said. "I don't know any who have been raped and it turned out in pregnancy, but I know that happens too."
Akin also confirmed he planned to stay in the race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Huckabee has been a supporter of the GOP candidate during his Senate campaign.
Akin's initial follow-up to his statements on a St. Louis area TV show had not included an outright apology, although he did claim he understood and was sensitive to how rape victims felt.
"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," Akin said Sunday. "Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society, and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve."
The statement, released on his campaign website, came hours after he said instances of pregnancy were "really rare" as a result of rape. Akin was responding to a question about his approval of abortion in extreme cases during an interview on KTVI's The Jaco Report.
"From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare," he said. "If it is 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. You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
The idea women's bodies "shut down" is false, according to a study by the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.
"Rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency," the study concluded. "It is a cause of many unwanted pregnancies and is closely linked with family and domestic violence.
"As we address the epidemic of unintended pregnancies in the United States, greater attention and effort should be aimed at preventing and identifying unwanted pregnancies that result from sexual victimization."
The interviewer followed the congressman's statement by moving the topic to the economy. The full interview has been posted on the KTVI site.
Also in Akin's statement, he said he recognized abortion, especially in rape cases, "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," he said. "I also recognize that there are those who, like my opponent, support abortion and I understand I may not have their support in this election."
According to polls, Akin is leading in the Senate race against incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill.
During his time in the U.S. House, Akin has been a staunch advocate for anti-abortion legislation, and his campaign is backed by the tea party.
The term "forcible rape" also appeared in the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act in 2011, a bill Akin co-sponsored with Congressman and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.
The bill would have changed an amendment that prevents federally funded health care programs from covering abortions, but offers an exemption in cases of rape. Under the new law, the exemption would have been reworded to forcible rape, which critics argued could distinguish it from statutory rape or sexual assaults involving drugs.
McCaskill, a Democrat, became the first woman elected to the Senate from Missouri in 2006. The race has been dubbed "one of the most closely watched" in 2012 by USA Today.
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