NASHVILLE — U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., on Tuesday rejected controversial assertions made by a House colleague, Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., that "legitimate rape" doesn't result in pregnancy.
"As a physician there is no medical basis that could or should have led anyone to make such insensitive statements," said DesJarlais, who considers himself pro-life, in a brief email statement to the Times Free Press.
But the Jasper physician is making no apologies for his support of a 2011 House Republican bill, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act."
The measure, which passed the GOP-controlled House last year but went nowhere in the Senate, sought to further toughen restrictions on federal funding of abortions. It did that by substituting the phrase "forcible rape" for "rape," which is part of the current ban.
"I have been a consistent supporter of pro-life values," DesJarlais said. "This bipartisan bill simply prevents taxpayer dollars from being used to perform abortions. Human life is sacred and taxpayer funding of abortion is counter to the values a great many Tennesseans hold."
Critics say the bill would exclude statutory rape and also instances where women felt threatened to have sex or where they had been drugged.
Last week, Akin, who is running against U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., reignited a national debate over abortion when he told a local television station that doctors have told him that pregnancy arising from rape "is really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Avery Poor, a spokesman for Democrat Eric Stewart, who faces DesJarlais in 4th Congressional District contest in November, said, "Eric opposes any efforts whatsoever to narrow the definition of rape, that would treat victims of rape as anything less than victims of a heinous crime."
Earlier, the Stewart campaign issued a news release charging DesJarlais' campaign "seems to be coming to Akin's defense, even going so far as directly encouraging Akin to stay in the race."
In the release, Poor charged that DesJarlais political director Corey Lester posted on his public Facebook page a message "that was directly tagged to Rep. Akin. The message read, 'Congressman Todd Akin, Do NOT withdraw from your Senate race.'"
Poor called Akin's comment "one of the most disgusting things to be uttered in this year's political cycle. Congressman DesJarlais has bragged many times about being a doctor in Congress. One would think he would have been one of the first to both rebuke Akin and correct what was said from a medical perspective."
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...