Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock opposes abortion even in the case of rape and incest, he said at a Tuesday night debate, because pregnancy from rape is "something that God intended to happen.”
Mourdock, who is in a tight race with Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, was responding to a question about whether abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest.
“I know there are some who disagree, and I respect their point of view, but I believe that life begins at conception,” the tea party-backed Mourdock said. “The only exception I have, to have an abortion, is in that case of the life of the mother.
“I've struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God,” Mourdock said, appearing to choke back tears. “And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Mourdock's statement came near the end of the debate. Afterward, according to the Associated Press, Donnelly said he didn't believe “my God, or any God, would intend that to happen.”
The controversy came as the Mourdock campaign unveiled a new ad featuring Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney making an on-camera endorsement of him.
In the ad, Romney calls Mourdock “the 51st vote to repeal and replace government-run healthcare,” and says he “will help stop the liberal Reid-Pelosi agenda.”
Casting Mourdock's comment as “part and parcel of the modern Republican Party's platform toward women's health,” Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz called on Romney to get the ad off the air.
“As Mourdock’s most prominent booster and the star of Mourdock’s current campaign ads, Mitt Romney should immediately denounce these comments and request that the ad featuring him speaking directly to the camera on Mourdock’s behalf be taken off the air," Wasserman Schultz said.
Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul tried to distance Romney from the comment. "Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock's comments, and they do not reflect his views,” Saul said in a statement.
The flap comes about two months after Missouri’s Republican candidate for Senate, Todd Akin, said a woman is unlikely to become pregnant from “legitimate rape” because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." That comment also came in response to a question on whether victims of rape and incest should be able to obtain an abortion.
Romney and most other prominent Republicans urged Akin to drop out of the race, but he did not. Instead, Akin said he had spoken inartfully, then apologized, but persisted in challenging embattled incumbent Claire McCaskill.
The Akin and Mourdock comments have the potential to undercut Romney's efforts to reduce the gender gap -- the margin by which women have tended to prefer President Obama.
Mourdock, the state treasurer, ousted moderate longtime Sen. Richard G. Lugar in the GOP primary in May. Romney embraced Mourdock's candidacy and traveled to Indiana in August to campaign for him.
“This is a man that I want to see in Washington to make sure that we cannot just talk about changing things but actually have the votes to get things changed,” Romney said at the time.
After Tuesday's debate in southern Indiana, Mourdock clarified his position on rape and pregnancy.
“Are you trying to suggest that somehow I think God ordained or pre-ordained rape?” Mourdock said, according to the Evansville Courier & Press. “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.
“It's a fundamental part of my faith that God gives us life,” he continued. “God determines when life begins. I believe in an almighty God who makes those calls.... There are some things in life that are above my pay grade.”