Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh backtracked slightly on his controversial remarks about abortion, saying today that there are “very rare circumstances” in which a pregnant woman may need to undergo an abortion to save her life.
The comment stood in contrast to the tea party icon’s declaration following a Thursday night debate that medical advances had rendered it unnecessary to ever perform an abortion to save a mother’s life.
The remark caused a hue and cry among abortion rights supporters, medical professionals and Democratic foe Tammy Duckworth, who sought to capitalize on the controversy as her campaign highlighted it in a fundraising e-mail.
Walsh held a hastily-called news conference at an empty sign warehouse in Elk Grove Village to “clarify” his earlier comments on abortion. Walsh arrived hand in hand with his wife, but the congressman refused to take questions.
“Let me be very clear that when I say I am pro-life, I mean that I am pro-life for the mother and I am pro-life for the unborn child. For me, there is no distinction between the two,” Walsh said.
“When it comes to having an abortion to save the life of the mother, I will say again that outside of the very rare circumstances, such as ectopic pregnancies, during which both the mother and baby will die if the baby is not aborted, and other rare health issues and circumstances, the research is pretty clear that with the advances in modern medicine an invasive and traumatic procedure like abortion is often, thankfully, not necessary to save the life of a mother,” Walsh added.
Walsh did not elaborate on what that research was, but promised to send it out.
The Republican also said Duckworth was using the abortion debate to distract from the real issues, namely joblessness and struggling businesses.
“For Miss Duckworth to say that I support letting a mother die, as she did last night, is the most disgusting form of politics. That statement could not be further from the truth,” Walsh said.
Duckworth told the Tribune today that she was “flabbergasted that (Walsh) is that out of touch with science.”
The controversy stemmed from a Thursday night debate at WTTW-Channel 11. Walsh declared that abortion should be outlawed in all circumstances, including to save the life of the mother.
Afterward, Walsh told reporters that medical advances had rendered it unnecessary to ever perform an abortion to save a mother’s life.
“With modern technology and science, you can’t find one instance,” Walsh declared.
Asked then if he was saying it was never medically necessary to perform an abortion to save the life of a mother, Walsh responded: “Absolutely, yes.”
He did not elaborate on how he came to that conclusion.
The comments led abortion rights advocates to liken him to embattled Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin.
Duckworth says she is pro-choice. Her campaign manager, Kaitlin Fahey, sent an email to supporters condemning Walsh’s comments as “extreme and out of touch.”
“This is truly shocking,” the statement said. “Politicians shouldn’t ever be involved in a woman’s personal medical decisions - especially when their beliefs about women’s bodies are as offensive as this.”
Fahey coupled her statement with a fundraising pitch for $10 apiece from supporters.
Meanwhile, Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, termed Walsh’s observations as “alarming” and “erroneous” and an example of “Joe Walsh’s ignorance about women’s health.”
She likened Walsh to Akin, the Missouri Republican congressman now running for Senate in that state.
Akin appeared to hold a strong early lead over incumbent Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill until he made abortion related comments on a television talk show claiming that women could not become pregnant from rape because their bodies would sense the violation and not allow a fetus to develop.
The comments created an uproar and many prominent Republicans moved to distance themselves from Akin. The incident also enabled McCaskill’s campaign to catapult from longshot to competitive.
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