Rep. Todd Akin, the newly christened GOP Senate nominee in Missouri, said in an interview that aired Sunday that "legitimate rape" rarely causes pregnancy.
Explaining his no-exceptions policy on abortions, Akin was asked why he opposes abortion even when the pregnancy is the result of rape.
"First of all, from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy from rape) is really rare," Akin told KTVI-TV in a clip posted to YouTube by the Democratic super PAC American Bridge. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Akin added: "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 on the rapist and not attacking the child."
Akin issued a statement Sunday afternoon saying he misspoke.
"In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year," he said.
"I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action."
Akin's statement threatens to recast a Senate race in which he starts as the favorite, but national Republicans are concerned about his ability to execute a winning strategy.
Akin won the GOP nomination two weeks ago – a result that Democrats hailed as a potential game-changer in a tough race for them.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she was outraged by Akin's claim.
"It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape," McCaskill said in a statement.
"The ideas that Todd Akin has expressed about the serious crime of rape and the impact on its victims are offensive."
According to a 1996 study by the Medical University of South Carolina, about 32,000 pregnancies result from rape annually in the United States, and about 5 percent of rape victims are impregnated.
"Rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency," the study says, according to an abstract, or summary of the article.
"It is a cause of many unwanted pregnancies and is closely linked with family and domestic violence."