Republican Richard Mourdock said Wednesday he spoke from his heart at a Senate debate when he said that God intends pregnancies that occur after rape and that he was trying to convey his belief that all life is precious and "God is the author of all life."
An emotional Mourdock– who is facing Democrat Joe Donnelly in a tight Senate race that could determine control of the chamber – said he abhors violence and rape and that's he's confident the "God that I worship abhors violence, abhors sexual violence and abhors rape."
And he said he is sorry so many people "mistook, twisted, came to misunderstand" his points.
Mourdock was trying to clarify his answer to a question about abortion at a Senate debate on Tuesday night in New Albany – comments that led gubernatorial hopeful Mike Pence to call for an apology.
Meanwhile, the campaign of Mitt Romney said the GOP presidential nominee will continue to support Mourdock even though he disagrees with the abortion-related remarks.
"Mr. Mourdock's comments do not reflect Gov. Romney's views," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. "We disagree on the policy regarding exceptions for rape and incest but still support him."
This week, the Mourdock campaign launched an endorsement ad featuring Romney and that ad continues to air. The Romney campaign has not asked Mourdock to pull the ad.
The comments at issue came about 44 minutes into a one-hour debate featuring Mourdock, Donnelly and Libertarian Andrew Horning. Mourdock said he opposes abortion except when the mother's life is at risk. He said he does not support abortions in cases involving rape.
"I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God," Mourdock said in the debate. "And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."
On Wednesday, Mourdock said he did not misspeak. But he said others might have misunderstood him.
"If they came away with any impression other than that (life is precious), I apologize," Mourdock said.
Earlier Wednesday, Pence – a conservative, anti-abortion Republican – called for an apology, although Mourdock said that did not prompt his decision to talk to the media.
"I strongly disagree with the statement made by Richard Mourdock during last night's Senate debate," Pence said in a statement released Wednesday morning. "I urge him to apologize."
Also, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., canceled campaign stops she planned to make Wednesday in Indianapolis and Lafayette on Mourdock's behalf. The Indiana Republican said he urged Ayotte not to come for fear of dragging her into the controversy.
Across the web and television news, Democrats were expressing outrage about the comments, while some Republicans worked to paint his views as mainstream conservative.
"Richard and I, along with millions of Americans – including even Joe Donnelly – believe that life is a gift from God," said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "To try and construe his words as anything other than a restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous."
But Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker called the comments "reprehensible" and "disrespectful."
Political observers said it's too soon to know whether Mourdock's statement will impact the race. But Geoffrey Skelley, political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said it probably won't help Mourdock win the independent voters that appear to be key in his race against Donnelly.
"The Indiana race is very close, and it's conceivable that the coverage of this comment could turn off more independents and moderate Republicans from voting for Mourdock," Skelley said.
"The defeat of Richard Lugar in the GOP primary looms even larger now because there's little question that Mourdock is making it as difficult as possible for Republicans to hold a Senate seat in a state where Romney will win by at least 10 percent," Skelley said. "Holding the Indiana seat should never have been this difficult."
Mourdock and his supporters turned to the social media network Twitter to try to explain the position. The Mourdock campaign tweeted, "We find it reprehensible that Joe Donnelly would try to make rape a political issue."
The Indiana Right to Life Political Action Committee issued a statement that said Mourdock's comments "showed Hoosiers that he will stand up for all innocent, human life once elected to the U.S. Senate."
And across social media, some pro-life Republicans sprang to Mourdock's defense. "The point @richardmourdock was making is simple, but profound: God routinely brings good out of evil circumstances," one person wrote on Twitter.
But Democrats compared Mourdock's comments to those of Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, a Republican running for his state's Senate seat. Aikin said in August that pregnancy from rape is rare because, "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Republicans immediately condemned Akin's remarks, which appeared initially to scuttle his chance of election against Democrat Claire McCaskill. But the race has recently tightened up.
Skelley said Wednesday that Mourdock's comments seem "comparable in its magnitude to Todd Akin's." But he said there are differences as well.
Some GOP leaders – including Cornyn – have come to Mourdock's defense, while they distanced themselves from Akin. And Mourdock made his comments so close to Election Day, "when there are a multitude of other topics, mainly the presidential race, for the media to talk about," Skelley said.
"This flap can certainly hurt Mourdock but it may not be as harmful as Akin's incident was," Skelley said. "Of course, the flip side is that some voters may be thinking about the actual comment when they go into the voting booth on Nov. 6 because it's still a relatively recent incident."
Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.