Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock is the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate (Michael Conroy, AP)
(USA TODAY) -- Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock has sparked the latest political controversy over rape and abortion, causing GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to distance himself a day after touting his candidacy in a TV ad.
Mourdock, Indiana's state treasurer, said Tuesday during a debate against Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly that when a woman becomes pregnant during rape "that it is something God intended."
Asked whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest, Mourdock said, "I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul told the Associated Press that Romney "disagrees with Richard Mourdock's comments and they do not reflect his views." Romney supports abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is in danger.
After the debate, Mourdock tried to clarify his remarks, saying it was "sick" and "bizarre" that his comments would be interpreted as though he were saying God intended rape. "What I said is God creates life. As a person of faith, I believe that," Mourdock is quoted as saying in The Indianapolis Star. "Does God want people raped? Of course not."
The AP reports that Romney aides did not say whether the ad for Mourdock would be pulled or if he still supports Mourdock's candidacy.
MORE: Mourdock's response to abortion question provokes controversy
Mourdock's comments, coming amid a hotly contested Senate race that could decide which party controls power, follow those of GOP Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri.
In August, Akin said women could prevent pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape." Akin apologized for that comment, but top Republicans - including Romney - disavowed his comments and have abandoned him in a race that was considered winnable for the GOP. Democrat Claire McCaskill is leading Akin by an average of 5 percentage points, according to polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Mourdock's comments were "outrageous and demeaning to women." She and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, chairwoman of the Senate Democrats' campaign committee, called on Romney to pull his Mourdock ad off the air.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that Mourdock's views are not different from those of Donnelly. Cornyn said the election is about "big ideas" such as the role of government, taxes and federal spending.
"Richard and I, along with millions of Americans - including even Joe Donnelly - believe that life is a gift from God," Cornyn said. "To try and construe his words as anything other than restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous. In fact, rather than condemning him for his position, as some in his party have when it's come to Republicans, I commend Congressman Donnelly for his support of life."
Donnelly has called himself "pro-life." The Indianapolis Star reports that after the debate, Donnelly shook his head at Mourdock's comments and said, "I don't know any God who would ever intend something like that."
The Susan B. Anthony List, a conservative group that opposes abortion rights, restated its support for Mourdock and stressed its own ad campaign highlighting Donnelly's abortion record.
"Richard Mourdock said that life is always a gift from God, and we couldn't agree more," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the SBA List. "To report his statement as an endorsement of rape is either willfully ignorant or malicious. Congressman Donnelly should not underestimate our ability to understand Mourdock's meaning."
Democratic groups wasted no time in criticizing Mourdock. The Democratic National Committee came out with a Web video splicing together words from Romney's ad along with Mourdock's statements from Tuesday. American Bridge 21st Century, a super PAC, released its own Web video on Wednesday highlighting what it called Mourdock's "extreme views" on rape, climate change and bipartisanship. The super PAC's video opens with a snippet from Romney's pro-Mourdock ad, and includes an image of Romney throughout.
Mourdock made national headlines earlier this year when he defeated veteran GOP Sen. Richard Lugar in an intra-party primary. Lugar has kept the Indiana Senate seat in Republican hands for nearly 40 years, but polls show the Mourdock-Donnelly race is now virtually tied.
In recent days, Republicans such as Arizona Sen. John McCain and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have campaigned for Mourdock.