IOWA, USA (AFP) — President Barack Obama's campaign team yesterday slammed a Republican Senate candidate's remarks on rape and abortion as extreme, and tried to link rival Mitt Romney to such thinking.
Anti-abortion Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's statement that pregnancy caused by rape was "something God intended to happen" gave Obama a new opening to attack his rival's record on women's rights.
With the presidential candidates locked in a virtual tie, women voters in swing states could decide the election. A fresh row over abortion would distract from Romney's focus on the sluggish US economy.
"The President felt those comments were outrageous and demeaning to women," campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
"This is a reminder that a Republican Congress working with a Republican president Mitt Romney would (feel) that women should not be able to make choices about their own health care."
She said women needed to consider the potential for abortion rights to erode under a Romney administration.
"I think it is clear that Mitt Romney, that many Republicans who are running for office including him, including Mr Mourdock have very extreme positions on an issue that women care deeply about in this country," she stressed.
"That is something that women should have, and I think will have, concern about as they are going to the voting booth."
Speaking at a Senate debate late Tuesday, Mourdock said he believed life begins at conception and opposed abortion in all cases except when the mother's life was in danger.
"I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realise 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," he said.
Romney's campaign moved to distance him from the remarks, with spokeswoman Andrea Saul saying "Governor Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock's comments, and they do not reflect his views."
Romney has said he opposes abortion except in cases of rape or incest, or to save the mother's life.
Obama has long accused Romney and other Republicans of having extreme views on abortion and other women's rights, and the Democratic National Committee quickly moved to link Romney to Mourdock.
The committee sent a link to a television ad in which Romney endorsed Mourdock, but the ad did not mention abortion or other social issues.
Mourdock tried to clarify his words, later saying "God creates life and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does."
"Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick," he said in a statement.