U.S. Rep. Todd Akin

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri gives a victory speech at a campaign party at the Columns Banquet Center in St. Charles, Mo. (Christian Gooden, MCT / August 20, 2012)

Furor surged in Maryland and across the country Monday over a Missouri congressman's comment that he opposes abortion in most cases of rape because women rarely become pregnant during a "legitimate rape."

Though Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican who is challenging Democrat Claire McCaskill for her U.S. Senate seat, later said he "misspoke," it did little to quell astonishment rolling in from women's groups, prominent members of the GOP and the president.

"Rape is rape, and the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we are talking about doesn't make sense to the American people and certainly doesn't make sense to me," President Barack Obama said Monday. "So what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn't have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women."

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also condemned Akin's remarks.

"Congressman Akin's comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable and, frankly, wrong," he said in an interview with the National Review Online. "Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive."

Akin apologized on Facebook and Twitter, then attempted to further clarify his remarks Monday on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's nationally syndicated radio show.

"I made that statement in error. Let me be clear. Rape is never legitimate. It's an evil act, and it's committed by violent predators," he said. "I used the wrong words in the wrong way. What I said was ill conceived, and it was wrong. For that, I apologize."

Controversy erupted Sunday when a local TV interviewer asked Akin, a tea party candidate, whether he supported abortion in the case of rape.

"It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare," Akin said, referring to conception after rape. "If it's 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, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child."

Akin sits on theHouse Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

In a matter of hours, the phrase "legitimate rape" was trending on social media — nationally and here in Maryland. And abortion, thought to be something of a back-burner campaign issue this year, was back in the spotlight.

Rosalyn Branson, the executive director of TurnAround Inc., a Baltimore sexual assault and domestic violence center, says she knows women who became pregnant after a rape and that Akin's remark stunned her.

"I was just horrified," she said. "It was so offensive. I know rape victims who have given birth to children who are products of rape. He said that doesn't happen. That's nonsense. So disrespectful. So condescending."

Linda Mahoney, president of the abortion-rights group Maryland NOW, said she was amazed by Akin's implication that certain rapes weren't "legitimate." So was Linda Kelly, a forensic nurse in charge of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners Program, which handles rape cases at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. Kelly pointed out that whether the rapist is a stranger or someone known by the victim, a victim is never responsible.

"This bit about 'real rape.' It's 'real rape' the minute a woman says no, and a woman shouldn't have to be beaten or killed for society to recognize a woman was raped," Mahoney said.

Lisae C. Jordan, general counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which advocates for sex crime victims in Maryland, said 4.7 percent of rapes nationally result in pregnancy. She called it "absolutely outrageous" that Akin seems to be blaming the rape survivor for getting pregnant.

"There are approximately 32,000 pregnancies a year resulting from sexual assault," she said. "If anything, this is a reminder of how far we have to go."

Jodi Finkelstein, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, thinks Akin could use a sex-ed refresher course.

"I really don't have words," she said. "If someone is that uneducated about rape and women and women's anatomy, I'm dumbfounded."

And Finkelstein wasn't buying Akin's apology.

"This was more than someone misspeaking," she said. "This was a lack of sensitivity and a lack of education on a very important issue."

Representatives from the anti-abortion groups Maryland Right to Life, Defend Life and Maryland Coalition for Life did not immediately return calls Monday.

Other prominent Republicans who distanced themselves from Akin on Monday included Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin; both called for Akin to drop out of the race.

Akin said Monday he would remain in the race.

Baltimore Sun reporter Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

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