AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Republican Todd Akin is now apologizing for the comments that aired yesterday. Again, he's running for the Senate seat in Missouri held by Democrat Claire McCaskill. President Obama isn't the only one condemning Akin's remarks. Republicans from Mitt Romney on down are weighing in, as NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: First, the comments themselves. Akin was appearing on a St. Louis TV interview program and was asked about his position on abortion. Akin opposes it in almost all circumstances. What about in cases of rape, he was asked.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV BROADCAST)
REPRESENTATIVE TODD AKIN: It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
NAYLOR: Akin's use of the phrase legitimate rape flashed across Internet news sites and on Twitter and immediately touched off a firestorm of criticism. Sarah Steelman, one of two Republicans Akin defeated in the state's GOP primary earlier this month, set the tone, calling his comments inexcusable, insulting and embarrassing to the GOP. McCaskill, who clearly wanted to run against Akin, appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this morning.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")
SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: This statement is kind of a window into Todd Akin's mind. And, you know, I spent 10 years as a prosecutor in the courtroom and did hundreds and hundreds of rape cases, held their hands, cried with them, and that's why for me this is incredibly painful.
NAYLOR: Mitt Romney moved to disassociate himself from Akin. Romney has already been the target of Obama campaign ads trying to portray him as anti-woman. In an interview today with the conservative National Review Online, Romney called Akin's remarks insulting, inexcusable and frankly wrong. And midday, in an attempt to contain the damage, Akin appeared on Mike Huckabee's radio show. Huckabee's endorsement in the primary helped mobilize evangelical voters in Missouri on Akin's behalf.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE MIKE HUCKABEE SHOW")
AKIN: I was talking about forcible rape, and it was absolutely the wrong word. Yeah.
NAYLOR: Forcible rape is a term that some have used to differentiate it from statutory rape or rapes involving coercion or drugs. Over 200 House members, including Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, co-sponsored a bill last year that would've narrowed an exemption in the Hyde Amendment and allowed federal funding for abortions only in cases of forcible rape. The provision was eventually dropped. It's unclear, just now, the political fallout in Missouri from Akin's remark. McCaskill has been widely seen as the most vulnerable Senate Democrat facing re-election this year. Political science Professor George Connor of Missouri State University says he is not sure Missouri Republicans will abandon Akin for McCaskill.
GEORGE CONNOR: There may be people who are second-guessing their support for Congressman Akin, but it's hard to imagine those people jumping over to Claire McCaskill because of the differences that they have over health care, military spending, earmarks and so on.
NAYLOR: Akin told Huckabee he won't be dropping out of the race, saying I'm not a quitter. But he is coming under intense pressure from Republican leaders to do just that. Texas Senator John Cornyn, the head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, told Akin he would not receive any party money for his campaign. And American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which have been among the outside groups running millions of dollars in ads against McCaskill, said they were pulling those spots. Akin has until 5:00 p.m. tomorrow to withdraw from the November ballot. After that, he'll have to go to court to do so, a move Democrats would be sure to contest. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.