NASHVILLE — U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann strongly disagrees with recent comments made by a Missouri colleague over the improbability of rape victims getting pregnant, but the Chattanooga Republican remains a staunch abortion opponent, according to a spokesman.
"Chuck believes the comment made by Congressman [Todd] Akin was flat-out wrong and not factual," Fleischmann spokesman Jordan Powell said in an email Thursday.
However, Powell said, Fleischmann "voted to prevent taxpayer funds from being used for abortion-related costs, and will continue to stand for the sanctity of human life every time he has the chance."
Akin, a Missouri congressman running for the U.S. Senate, triggered a national uproar when he told a local television reporter he understood from doctors that pregnancy arising from rape "is really rare. If it is a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
He later apologized, saying on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's radio program this week that he meant to say "forcible rape" and that "I also know that people do become pregnant from rape."
But national Democrats and abortion-rights supporters have been quick to pounce on "forcible rape" too, citing the House's 2011 Republican-backed "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." It was co-sponsored by dozens of Republicans, including Fleischmann, and at least 10 Democrats.
The measure sought to further toughen restrictions on federal funding of abortions. It did substitute the phrase "forcible rape" for the word "rape."
Critics said that definition would have excluded statutory rape and instances where women felt threatened to have sex or where they had been drugged. Jordan noted that the "forcible rape" language was dropped from the version that eventually passed the House.
Fleischmann's Democratic opponent in the 3rd Congressional District, Dr. Mary Headrick, rejected Akin's original statement that women who are victims of violent rape can't get pregnant as "ludicrous."
Headrick, a Maynardville, Tenn., physician who practices internal medicine in a rural setting, said she is often called to administer rape kits to possible victims because women and teens feel more comfortable with a female physician.
While emphasizing she had not read the original bill in its entirety, Headrick strongly objected to the phrase "forcible rape."
"That's outrageous," Headrick said. "I've had 14-year-olds who have been impregnated by 23-year-olds and that's rape. It doesn't matter if she was consenting."
Headrick said you "have to presume that when a female is underage she doesn't know how to avoid the sexual activity and you leave her alone. It's rape. And that adjective 'forcible' is just infuriating."
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, ...