Rep. Todd Akin takes questions after speaking at the Missouri Farm Bureau… (Christian Gooden / St. Louis…)
WASHINGTON -- Missouri Republican Todd Akin's troubled Senate campaign blasted out a letter of support Tuesday from the antiabortion crusader who promoted the theory that victims of rape do not usually become pregnant.
Akin's decision to release the letter from Dr. Jack Willke, founder of the International Right to Life Federation, sends a mixed message from the GOP congressman, who has apologized repeatedly for having said "legitimate rape" rarely leads to pregnancy.
"The pro-life movement and I unequivocally stand with Rep. Akin. How could we not?" Willke wrote in the letter. "Rep. Akin will make the U.S. Senate a safer place for the most vulnerable in our nation.
"It's time for Republican leaders to rise to the level of Rep. Akin's principle and courage and stand with him and the Republican platform that stands for the protection of every human life."
PHOTOS: "Legitimate rape" and other disastrous quotes
Willke said he was overnighting copies of his book, "Abortion, Questions and Answers," to Akin, noting that "there is a full chapter on this issue, fully documented, which completely exonerates him."
The Akin campaign has been in turmoil as supporters have pulled ads and Republican leaders are pressuring him to withdraw from the Senate race. Mitt Romney's presidential campaign distanced itself from the embattled candidate, and party leaders are calling him personally, explaining that his candidacy threatens to disrupt races across the GOP ticket.
Akin's refusal to step aside pits the party's establishment and its fiscal-conservative flank against those on the religious right, who have long championed the six-term congressman's strict antiabortion views. The Family Research Council's Action PAC also defended Akin this week.
Willke and his wife, Barbara, are leading antiabortion advocates. Their book, first published in 1971, asserts that "assault rape" rarely results in pregnancy because the assault traumatizes the woman and makes her body less habitable.
It's "just downright unusual" for a woman to get pregnant from a rape, Willke said in an interview Monday.
"This goes back 30 and 40 years. When a woman is assaulted and raped, there's a tremendous amount of emotional upset within her body," Willke said, adding that this trauma "can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy."
It might also make a woman's fallopian tubes "tight," he said.
Willke estimated that there are just one or two pregnancies for every 1,000 rapes.
That contradicts research published in the Journal of American Obstetrics and Gynecology in the 1990s that found the occurrence of rape-related pregnancies is 5%. More than 32,000 women experience rape-related pregnancy every year, the research found.
Willke's book has gained currency among some conservative antiabortion activists.
Akin has apologized for his comments, saying "I used the wrong words in the wrong way," and his campaign produced an ad Tuesday morning asking for forgiveness.
Willke said he reached out to talk with Akin because he was "so outraged at how quickly Republican leaders have deserted him. After talking with Rep. Akin, I'm even more outraged."