Rep. Paul Ryan addressed his stance on abortion Wednesday for the first time since Rep. Todd Akin's controversial comments about "legitimate rape," seeking to distance himself from the embattled congressman with whom he co-sponsored a bill to redefine rape with respect to abortions.
The Republican vice presidential nominee told local CBS affiliate KDKA he is "proud" of his anti-abortion record when asked if abortion should be available to women in instances of rape.
"I'm proud of my pro-life record," Ryan said. "And I stand by my pro-life record in Congress."
"But Mitt Romney is the top of the ticket and Mitt Romney will be president and he will set the policy of the Romney administration," Ryan continued.
Ryan also tried to distance himself from a bill he co-sponsored with Akin to introduce language around "forcible rape" into prior legislation, in order to limit federal funding on abortions for rape victims. The congressman quickly cut off a question asking him to clarify what those terms meant, responding, "Rape is rape. Rape is rape, period. End of story."
"Rape is rape and there's no splitting hairs over rape," he added, when pressed further on the contradiction between his latest comments on abortion versus his record.
The exchange highlights the struggles Ryan has faced since Akin ignited a firestorm earlier this week by saying if a woman is a victim of "legitimate rape," her body can shut itself down in order to prevent pregnancy.
It was a statement that forced Ryan into an awkward position for having specifically worked with the Missouri congressman on redefining rape as it relates to abortion.
Moreover, it highlighted a key disconnect between Romney and Ryan on a social issue that carries significant weight, particularly with women voters -- a group Romney has struggled with against President Barack Obama. The presumptive GOP presidential nominee currently opposes abortion with an exception for cases of rape, incest and risk to the mother's life. His running mate has stated that abortion should only be legal when a mother's life is at risk.
And even then, Ryan supported a bill that allowed anti-abortion hospitals to refuse emergency abortions.
His view was noticeably absent from the Romney campaign's initial reaction to Akin's comments, which stated: "Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin's statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape."
But Democrats quickly seized on the controversy as an opportunity to highlight Ryan's anti-abortion stance and liken him to Akin, whose comments led virtually every member of his own party to call on him to step down from the Missouri Senate race, where he is running against incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Akin told Matt Lauer on Wednesday that Ryan personally called him and asked him to exit the race. Romney had released a statement on Tuesday urging Akin to withdraw his candidacy, but the congressman refused and skipped a Tuesday evening deadline to drop out.
UPDATE: 11:20 a.m. -- Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, responded to Ryan's comments in a statement.
"As a Republican leader in the House, Paul Ryan worked with Todd Akin to try to narrow the definition of rape and outlaw abortion even for rape victims," she said. "He may hope that American women never learn about this record, but they deserve an answer to why he wanted to redefine rape and remove protections for rape victims. Labeling these critical issues of women’s health as ‘distractions’ and refusing to answer whether he believes rape victims need to be protected, as he did in an interview last night, is a great disservice to women across America.”
UPDATE: 1:00 p.m. -- Ryan said Wednesday that he is "comfortable" with Romney's exception to abortions in the case of rape or incest, according to the Washington Post.
"Mitt Romney’s going to be the president. The president sets the policy," Ryan told reporters aboard his campaign plane en route to Raleigh, N.C. "His policy is exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. I’m comfortable with it because it’s a good step in the right direction. I’ll leave it at that.”
Ryan reiterated that he is "proud" of his record and stood by the bill he co-sponsored with Akin to enforce tighter restrictions on abortions by including language around "forcible rape."
“That bill passed I think by 251 votes," he said. "It was bipartisan ... I’m proud of my pro-life record.”
According to the Post, Ryan also confirmed that he did in fact call Akin to urge the congressman to exit the Missouri Senate race:
Ryan acknowledged to reporters that he had phoned Akin this week to encourage him to drop his bid. He said he had “no plans” to talk to Akin again. “He’s going to run his campaign, we’re going to run ours.”