WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Republican Party committee on Tuesday embraced anti-abortion language it has used in its platform since 2004, with no mention of exceptions for rape or incest, as one of its Senate candidates was widely condemned over his comments about rape.
The anti-abortion language was approved by the platform panel with little discussion and is nearly identical to what was in the Republican platform in 2008 and 2004.
It was adopted on a day in which the issue of abortion was making unwanted headlines for Republicans because of controversial comments about rape made over the weekend by U.S. Representative Todd Akin, a Senate candidate in Missouri.
The committee also called for a “human life amendment” to the U.S. Constitution in the party’s 2012 platform.
The platform - a statement of principles that is not binding on Republican candidates - will be voted on, and likely approved, by delegates to the Republican National Convention next week in Tampa, Florida.
Many of the Republican delegates who have shaped the platform in recent years are among its most conservative members and reflect the party’s move to the right in the past decade.
This is likely to be the third consecutive presidential election in which the Republican candidate for president - George W. Bush in 2004, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney this year - has a more lenient position on abortion than the party’s platform.
Bush, McCain and Romney all oppose abortion but have said it is acceptable under certain circumstances, such as when a rape results in a pregnancy.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, chairman of the platform committee, praised the panel for making quick work of an issue that he said has involved hours of discussions in the past.
“I applaud the committee’s work in affirming our respect for human life,” McDonnell said. “Well done.”
A ‘HUMAN LIFE’ AMENDMENT
The language backed by the platform committee says an unborn child has a fundamental right to life that cannot be infringed. It also says the Republican Party supports a “human life amendment” to the Constitution and endorses legislation to ensure that unborn children are protected by the 14th Amendment.
The abortion issue became a main topic on the campaign trail after Akin said during a television interview Sunday that a woman was unlikely to get pregnant from “legitimate rape.”
The remark sparked a flurry of calls from other Republicans for him to quit his race against Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill - calls Akin has resisted.
Akin’s comments were seen as a distraction before the Republican convention, where Romney will be nominated for president at an event in which Republicans hope to put a national spotlight on Democratic President Barack Obama’s handling of the struggling U.S. economy.
Republicans also want to puncture Democrats’ portrayals of Romney as a wealthy, aloof former private equity executive who cannot relate to middle-class Americans by casting Romney as warm and approachable.
Instead, Romney’s campaign has had to deal with the Akin controversy, which also has served as a reminder that Romney’s vice presidential running mate, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, has had stricter views on abortion than Romney. On Tuesday, Romney urged Akin to withdraw from the Missouri race.
Democrats, meanwhile, linked the proposed Republican platform to Akin’s strict views on abortion.
“Republicans have finally hit rock bottom,” said Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman who heads the Democratic Party. “I don’t have to tell any of you how outrageous Republican Representative Todd Akin’s comments were this weekend. But unfortunately, he’s not alone in his extreme and dangerous views.”
Wasserman Schultz said the Democratic platform, to be approved during the party’s convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, during the first week of September, would express strong support for women’s reproductive freedom but also would include language proposed by anti-abortion Democrats.
Editing by Doina Chiacu and David Lindsey