Mitt Romney joins calls for US candidate to quit race

media captionCongressman Todd Akin says the words "legitimate" and "rape" should never be used together

US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has called on embattled congressman Todd Akin to withdraw from the race for a Senate seat in Missouri.

Mr Akin has sparked uproar by claiming women's bodies could prevent pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape".

He is defying intense pressure from his own party to leave the race, accusing people of over-reacting.

Correspondents say Republicans fear the backlash could sink their bid to win control of the US Senate in November.

Mr Romney said on Monday Mr Akin's remarks were "offensive and wrong", but he had stopped short of urging him to drop out at that point.

But on Tuesday, Mr Romney said: "Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race."

'Taking a stand'

Senator Roy Blunt and four former senators from Missouri said earlier in a joint statement that Mr Akin's candidacy did not serve the national interest.

On conservative radio host Mike Huckabee's show, Mr Akin again refused to quit the race.

He described the response to his comments as a "little bit of an over-reaction", saying he had mistaken "one word in one sentence on one day".

"By taking this stand, this is going to strengthen our country," the sixth-term lawmaker said. "I hadn't done anything morally or ethically wrong, as sometimes people in politics do."

Last week Mr Akin had a comfortable lead in opinion polls over incumbent Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill in the Midwestern state of Missouri, which has leaned increasingly conservative in recent years.

Then on Sunday, he was asked by a local news station if he would support abortions for women who have been raped.

The 65-year-old lawmaker replied: "It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that is really rare.

"If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said Mr Akin's claim "contradicts basic biological truths".

'Gutless little twerp'

But even as top conservatives were lambasting the congressman, the Republican Party was reportedly ratifying a call for a constitutional ban on abortion, without any exception for rape or incest.

The position was to be the subject of a vote at the Republican national convention in Tampa, Florida, next week.

In a new campaign advertisement released early on Tuesday, Mr Akin said: "Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologise."

But the US Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, said the apology was insufficient.

He said Mr Akin had "made a deeply offensive error at a time when his candidacy carries great consequence for the future of our country".

The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has reportedly told Mr Akin that $5m (£3.2m) in advertising set aside for Missouri would now be spent elsewhere.

media captionTodd Akin: "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Video courtesy FOX 2 KTVI

The Karl Rove-backed Crossroads organisation also pulled its ads from Missouri.

But Sen McCaskill, whose campaign appears reinvigorated by her Republican challenger's slip-up, wants Mr Akin to stay in the race.

She said Republicans were trying to "kick sand in the face" of their party's voters in Missouri who selected Mr Akin this month as their candidate.

On Monday evening, CNN television host Piers Morgan labelled Mr Akin a "gutless little twerp" for pulling out of an appearance on his show.

US media reacts

A New York Times editorial says that while Republicans are distancing themselves from Akin's comments, his views "expose a widely held belief among many fierce abortion opponents that a rape exception will be abused by women whose rapes were not 'legitimate'".

The Washington Post expands on that argument, saying: "Unfortunately, Mr Akin's remarks are not the first, nor are they likely to be the last, in a long-running effort to downplay the horror of rape as a way to restrict access to abortion. What they're really saying is that not all rape victims are victims, and so we shouldn't worry if they have to deal with unwanted pregnancy."

And the Atlantic says proponents of no-exception anti-abortion policies have tried to downplay or deny the occurrence of rape- or incest-related pregnancies: "The idea that trauma is a form of birth control continues to be promulgated by anti-abortion forces that seek to outlaw all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest."

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle says Democrats are trying to link Mr Akin's comments to vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan's position on abortion: "This is the Democratic National Committee playbook: Delegitimize a respectable position - that abortion is the taking of innocent life - not by refuting it but by assessing guilt by association."

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