US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has called for Congressman Todd Akin to abandon the Senate race over comments he made about rape and abortion. Meanwhile, a Republican panel backed a strict anti-abortion amendment.
Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney on Tuesday joined voices within his party calling for Akin to step aside as a candidate for one of Missouri's US Senate seats.
Although Romney on Monday branded comments made by Akin as "indefensible," he had stopped short of calling for him to withdraw. The comments have highlighted some divisive social issues for the party ahead of the Republican National Convention next week in Tampa, Florida, where Romney is set to be given his party's official nomination as president.
As part of the debate about abortion, Akin on Sunday had claimed that a woman's body could prevent a pregnancy during a "legitimate rape."
"The female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," he said after being asked about his opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest.
By Tuesday, Romney was echoing calls made earlier in the day by four former US Republican senators from Missouri - John Ashcroft, Kit Bond, John Danforth and Jim Talent.
"Todd Akin's comments were offensive and wrong and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country," Romney said in a statement.
"Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race."
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell had also strongly urged Akin to step down.
Threat to Republican Senate hopes
Republicans are afraid that the controversy could damage their chances of winning in Missouri, denting the likelihood of them picking up the four seats they need to win a majority in the 100-member Senate.
However, on Tuesday evening, a deadline for Akin to take himself out of the race passed by with no indication from the congressman that he would step down.
On syndicated US radio program The Mick Huckabee Show, Akin said he represented a conservative movement that must be heard.
"I want to make one thing absolutely clear, and that is we are going to continue with this race for the US Senate," Akin said. Regarding his comments about legitimate rape, the congressman admitted he used "absolutely the wrong word."
Until the most recent media storm, Akin had been seen as a strong contender to beat incumbent Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill in the Senate contest.
A Republican panel on Tuesday also approved a strict anti-abortion amendment without exclusions for cases of rape or incest. Similar amendments have been backed in the past by the party's platform panel, which will now be asked to approve the latest version at next week's convention.
rc/av (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)