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Indiana Senate Hopeful Under Fire For Rape Comment

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. We begin this hour with the election and not only the race for president. Today, Republicans are facing pressure to respond to controversial comments about rape and pregnancy from their party's Senate hopeful in Indiana. Richard Mourdock was taking part in a debate last night when the subject turned to abortion, as NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Mourdock opposes abortion in most cases, including for women who are victims of rape and incest. He was explaining that view in last night's debate and began speaking about his faith.

RICHARD MOURDOCK: The only exception I have for - to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother. I just - I've struggle with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is a 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.

NAYLOR: That phrase about rape and something that God intended to happen sparked an immediate bipartisan round of criticism. After the debate, Democratic Congressman Joe Donnelly, who is locked with Mourdock in a tight race for the Indiana Senate seat, said rape was an unspeakable crime and saying, I can't believe that my God or any God would ever intend for that to happen to anyone.

This morning, Republican Congressman Mike Pence, who is running for governor of Indiana, issued a statement saying he strongly disagree with Mourdock and urged him to apologize. And a spokeswoman for Mitt Romney said the GOP presidential nominee also disagrees with Mourdock and that his comments do not reflect Romney's views.

But the campaign did not ask Mourdock to pull down the TV ad Romney taped for Mourdock, the only such ad he's made in the campaign to date.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

MITT ROMNEY: Richard will be the 51st vote to repeal and replace government-run healthcare. Richard will help stop the liberal Reed/Pelosi agenda. There's so much at stake. I hope you'll join me in supporting Richard Mourdock for U.S. Senate.

MOURDOCK: I'm Richard Mourdock and I approve this message.

NAYLOR: Mourdock's remarks have drawn inevitable comparisons with the comments made by another Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin in Missouri. In an interview this summer, Akin said women's body prevent them from becoming pregnant after what he termed legitimate rape. The chair of the Democratic National Committee, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, says it's all part of a pattern.

REPRESENTATIVE DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Try as he may to distance himself, Mitt Romney has demonstrated time and time again that he is a part of the extreme right wing of the GOP with the likes of Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin. Especially when it comes to issues affecting women and their bodies.

NAYLOR: The Obama campaign, which has made support for women's reproductive rights a key component of its efforts to gain women's votes also chimed in. Spokeswoman Jen Saki called it perplexing that Romney didn't ask that his ad for Mourdock be taken down and that President Obama felt Mourdock's comments were outrageous and demeaning to women.

At a news conference today, Mourdock defended his comment, saying he was sorry if people misconstrued them.

MOURDOCK: I spoke from my heart. For speaking from my heart, from speaking from the deepest level of my faith, I cannot apologize. I would be less than faithful to my faith if I said anything other than life is precious. I believe it is the gift from God.

NAYLOR: The Republican Senate campaign committee struggling to win enough seats in the Senate to gain control quickly came to Mourdock's defense. Chairman John Cornyn issued a statement saying, "Richard and I, along with millions of Americans, including even Joe Donnelly, believe that life is a gift of God." Donnelly opposes abortion except in cases involving rape, incest and the life of the woman.

The controversy seems to be taking a toll on Mourdock. Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire cancelled a scheduled appearance in Indiana for Mourdock and in an editorial today, the Louisville Courier Journal cited Mourdock's rape comments as it endorsed Donnelly for the Indiana Senate race. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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