ST. LOUIS - The Republican candidate in one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate contests came under pressure to drop out of the race Monday after saying on television that women's bodies are able to prevent pregnancies if they are victims of a "legitimate rape."
Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri apologized for the comments Monday, saying rape is "never legitimate," but pledged to continue the race.
The Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, said Akin's remarks about rape may "prevent him from effectively representing" the Republican Party. At least two Republican senators said he should resign the party's nomination.
Akin, a six-term congressman, is opposing Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in the November election. The race is seen as one of the Republicans' best chances of defeating a Democratic incumbent as they try to gain control of the Senate. Missouri is an increasingly conservative state and McCaskill has been targeted because of her strong ties to President Barack Obama.
"If it was me," Republican Chairman Reince Priebus told CNN, "I would step aside and let someone else run for that office."
Akin, who has served six terms, said he would not drop out.
"The good people of Missouri nominated me, and I'm not a quitter," he said. "And my belief is we're going to take this thing forward and by the grace of God, we're going to win this race."
As his political support waned, Akin also confronted problems paying for his campaign.
An official with the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee said the group's head, Sen. John Cornyn, called Akin on Monday to tell him that the committee had withdrawn $5 million in advertising planned for the Missouri race. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the conversation was private.
At least one outside group that has pounded McCaskill with ads also pulled its ads from Missouri.
Asked in an interview Sunday on KTVI-TV if he would support abortions for women who have been raped, Akin said: "It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Later Sunday, Akin released a statement saying that he "misspoke" during the interview, though the statement did not say specifically which points were in error.
"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," Akin's statement said.
Akin also said he believes "deeply in the protection of all life" and does "not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action."
Moments after Akin's apology, President Barack Obama said Akin's comments underscore why politicians — most of whom are men — should not make health decisions on behalf of women.
"Rape is rape" Obama said, adding that the idea of distinguishing among types of rape "doesn't make sense to the American people and certainly doesn't make sense to me."
Akin's comments also brought a swift rebuke from the campaign of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Romney and Ryan "disagree with Mr. Akin's statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape," Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said.
Romney went further in an interview with National Review Online, calling Akin's comments "insulting, inexcusable and frankly wrong."
"Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive," Romney said.
In an emailed statement Sunday, McCaskill said it was "beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape."
This month, the 65-year-old congressman won the state's Republican Senate primary by a comfortable margin. During the primary campaign, Akin enhanced his standing with TV ads in which former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee praised him as "a courageous conservative" and "a Bible-based Christian" who "supports traditional marriage" and "defends the unborn."
Ushering Akin from the race is complicated by the fact that he has never been a candidate beholden to the party establishment. Since being elected to Congress in 2000, Akin has relied on a grassroots network of supporters. His Senate campaign is being run by his son.
Behind the scenes, Republican officials were looking for intermediaries trusted by Akin to try to coax him from the race.
Missouri election law allows candidates to withdraw 11 weeks before Election Day. That means the deadline to exit the Nov. 6 election would be 5 p.m. Tuesday. Otherwise, a court order would be needed to remove a candidate's name from the ballot.
If Akin were to leave, state law holds that the Republican state committee has two weeks to name a replacement. The candidate would be required to file within 28 days of Akin's exit.
Akin, a former state lawmaker who was first elected to the House in 2000, has a long-established base among evangelical Christians and was endorsed in the primary by more than 100 pastors.
Associated Press writers Jim Salter in St. Louis, Henry Jackson in Washington and Chris Blank in Jefferson City, Missouri, contributed to this report.