GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s remarks during Tuesday’s debate that pregnancies resulting from rape are something God intended set off a firestorm of responses that dominated statewide and national political discussion.
The debate was more than three-quarters of the way through. It was one of the last questions, and a fairly basic one: what is your position on abortion rights and whether life begins at conception?
Both Democrat Joe Donnelly and Richard Mourdock are pro-life. But Mourdock went a step further than Donnelly.
“The only exception I have to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother,” Mourdock says. “I struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize life is that gift from God and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Though Donnelly didn’t respond in the debate, his reaction came swiftly after. He condemned Mourdock’s remarks, calling them shocking, stunning and disrespectful.
Mourdock clarified quickly, saying he meant rape is a horrible thing and that his only point was that God creates life.
State Democratic Party chair Dan Parker says Mourdock’s remarks revealed him as an extremist who’s out of touch with the Hoosier mainstream:
“I think he qualified himself as a TEA Party zealot and disqualified himself as a candidate for the United States Senate,” Parker says.
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana president Betty Cockrum says Mourdock’s statements are part of a larger trend in the Republican Party.
“We need a break from it,” Cockrum says. “We don’t need these guys who can’t fathom the experience themselves thinking that they should become spokespersons for it and make laws that are harmful.”
At the national level, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney distanced himself from Mourdock’s comments. At the same time, televisions across Indiana were running an ad from Romney that just debuted Monday.
“With so much at stake, I hope you’ll join me in supporting Richard Mourdock for U.S. Senate,” he said.
Calls came for Romney to pull the ads, though Mourdock says he will continue to run them. And late Wednesday Romney had not disavowed Mourdock’s candidacy.
But while the former Massachusetts governor condemned the remarks, not all national Republicans followed suit. Texas Senator John Cornyn, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, stood by Mourdock, noting that both Indiana Senate candidates believe life if a gift from God.
Mourdock Wednesday took time to apologize, but not for his beliefs. He says he’s only sorry if some people misconstrued his remarks.
“For speaking from my heart, for speaking from the deepest level of my faith, I cannot apologize,” Mourdock says. “I would be less than faithful to my faith if I said anything other than life is precious. I believe it is a gift from God.”
Indiana Family Institute president Curt Smith, who supports Mourdock, says the GOP nominee’s beliefs are shared by a majority of Hoosiers.
“I don’t think Richard Mourdock’s position on abortion – that the only exception he thinks is appropriate in public policy is for the life of the mother – will move any voters or cause any issues,” Smith says.
Smith says the wording of Mourdock’s remarks during the debate is where any trouble might lie.
“But if there’s ongoing confusion or one campaign is able to exploit this to its benefits then, of course, in a close election it might make a difference,” Smith says.
Mourdock says he believes the controversy will pass.
“We’re moving on from this,” Mourdock says. “I’m confident that the Hoosier voters are going to be moving on and be supporting us in big numbers in just thirteen days.”
But Donnelly says the controversy is not about politics or even abortion policy.
“When you say, in regards to rape, that a pregnancy from rape is God’s intention that it will happen, I just that’s hurtful and insulting to women, to rape survivors and to the families,” Donnelly says.
With the election less than two weeks away and many voters’ minds likely made up, it’s hard to say whether Mourdock’s remarks will play a significant role in the outcome of the race.
But both sides agree the controversy has stirred up supporters as the campaigns near the finish line.