CHICAGO (AP) — An Illinois congressman and tea party favorite who drew sharp criticism for saying that abortions are never necessary to save the life of a woman because of advances in science and technology tried to stem potential political damage Friday, saying abortions might be necessary in rare circumstances.
Republican Joe Walsh did not make that distinction during or immediately after a debate Thursday night with his Democratic opponent, Tammy Duckworth, when he said he was "pro-life without exception," including for rape, incest or to save a woman's life.
"This is an issue that opponents of life throw out there to make us look unreasonable. There is no such exception as life of the mother and, as far as health of the mother, same thing, with advances in science and technology," Walsh told reporters after the debate.
He added that "health of the mother has become a tool for abortions any time under any reason."
Medical experts responded quickly, saying abortions sometimes are necessary to save a mother's life, including during ectopic pregnancies, which occur outside the uterus. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said more than 600 women die annually from pregnancy and childbirth-related reasons in the U.S. and "in fact, many more women would die each year if they did not have access to abortion to protect their health or to save their lives."
"These inaccurate comments are yet another reason why The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' message to politicians is unequivocal: Get out of our exam rooms," the college said in a statement Friday.
Walsh called a news conference to clarify his remarks, saying his pro-life views extend to protecting the lives of mothers, too. He said abortion may be necessary during rare cases to save a mother's life, though emphasized it's rarely necessary.
Walsh also took exception to Duckworth's comment during the debate that Walsh would "let a woman die rather than to give the doctor the option to save her life." He said Friday that the comment was "disgusting" and "a desperate quote from a desperate candidate."
The two are embroiled in one of the nation's most closely watched congressional races, Illinois' newly drawn 8th District.
Duckworth on Friday said Walsh's comments were out of touch and "put women's lives in real danger."
The Planned Parenthood Action Fund released a statement on its website calling Walsh's comments "alarming and erroneous."
"It is deeply troubling that he and some politicians have such a fundamental disregard for women and women's health," the statement read.
This is just the latest controversy for the freshman politician. Shortly after his 2010 election, he accused President Barack Obama of spending money "like a drunken sailor." He more recently accused Duckworth, a former Obama administration official who lost both legs in Iraq while serving as an Army helicopter pilot, of using her injuries to score political support.
Earlier this year, Walsh told a crowd at a town hall meeting that the Democratic Party's "game" was to make Latinos dependent on government just like "they got African-Americans dependent upon government." He also said there are radical Muslims in Chicago's suburbs "trying to kill Americans every week."
Walsh's congressional district was redrawn last year by Democrats as part of a once-a-decade redistricting process. The Democrats see the race as an opportunity to help regain control of the U.S. House.