One might think that after all the trouble Todd Akin caused for the GOP by sharing his thoughts on "legitimate rape," Republican candidates across the country would be choosing their words on the topic extremely carefully. However, that didn't stop GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana from setting off a new controversy when discussing his view that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape during a debate on Tuesday night. “I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God,” Mourdock said. “And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
The Indiana Senate race is close, and local Democrats are already trying to turn the remark into an Akin-esque firestorm. Plus, with just two weeks until the election, reviving talk of the so-called "war on women" on the national stage would be a nightmare for the GOP — so it's too bad that Mitt Romney just released an ad endorsing Mourdock.
Minutes after the debate, Mourdock was already trying to undo the damage. “Are you trying to suggest that somehow I think God ordained or pre-ordained rape? No, I don’t think that anyone could suggest that. That’s a sick, twisted — no, that’s not even close to what I said,” he told reporters — though he reiterated that he believes God determines when conception occurs. “It is a fundamental part of my faith that God gives us life. God determines when life begins,” Mourdock said. “I believe in an almighty God who makes those calls … There are some things in life that are above my pay grade.”
Mourdock's opponent, Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, is also pro-life, but he believes abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest, and to protect the life of the mother. “The God I believe in and the God I know most Hoosiers believe in, does not intend for rape to happen — ever,” said Donnelly in a statement. “What Mr. Mourdock said is shocking, and it is stunning that he would be so disrespectful to survivors of rape.”
The remark creates a particularly awkward situation for the GOP, since recently several prominent Republicans have been dispatched to help Mourdock (who beat longtime Senator Richard Lugar in a primary earlier this year). The Associated Press reports that John McCain and Lindsey Graham hit the campaign trail in Indiana last week, and Kelly Ayotte is scheduled to make an appearance on Wednesday. Plus, Mitt Romney just cut this ad:
After the "legitimate rape" debacle, the Romney campaign distanced itself from Akin and eventually called for him to drop out of the race. On Tuesday night, Romney press secretary Andrea Saul told Buzzfeed, "Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock's comments, and they do not reflect his views," but didn't respond to questions about whether Romney still endorses Mourdock or if the ad will continue airing. Though the controversy is likely to cause trouble for Republicans, on the plus side it can't be called an "October surprise." At this point, a politician making an offensive remark about women's health isn't really that shocking.
Update: Outraged reactions to Mourdock's comments have come down quickly, while many Republicans are keeping their distance, with an Indiana Republican Party spokesman referring comment back to the Mourdock campaign. National Democrats have dubbed Mourdock a Tea Party "zealot," and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is calling for Romney to take his support ad off the air due to comments she said were "outrageous and demeaning to women."
"As a pro-life Catholic, I'm stunned and ashamed that Richard Mourdock believes God intended rape," added Indiana Democratic Party chairman Dan Parker. "Victims of rape are victims of an extremely violent act, and mine is not a violent God."
Writing at the National Review, Katrina Trinko said "as someone pro-life and religious, I think when talking about something as painful as pregnancy in the case of rape, it's best to talk about how the unborn child is a human being, regardless of the horrific circumstances of conception, and leave aside politically irrelevant speculation about what God does and doesn't do." But she stressed that Mourdock's comments were not the same as Akin's: "Mourdock's comment didn’t get into whether rapes could be illegitimate (instead calling rape a "horrible situation"), nor did he claim that biologically, raped women were very, very unlikely to become pregnant."
But at Salon, Irin Carmon scoffed at the insinuation that Mourdock and his fellow politicians' comments were a mistake at all. "Dear everyone asking what it is about Republican candidates and their clumsy talk about rape," she wrote. "This is a feature, not a bug."
Update 2: At a press conference early Wednesday afternoon, Mourdock attempted to clarify his "less than fully articulate use of words" on pregnancies resulting from rape. "I believe that life itself is the greatest gift that God can give us," he said, reiterating his stance that abortion should only be legal to protect the health of the mother. However, "I absolutely abhor violence, I abhor any kind of sexual violence, I abhor rape. The God that I worship abhors violence, abhors sexual violence, and abhors rape," he said. "If in any way people came away with the wrong meaning, for that I apologize."
But pressed on how God could "intend" a child born from rape, but not the rape itself, Mourdock responded, "That's a call above my pay grade."