COLUMBUS, Ohio — The discredited notion that a woman's body can resist conception in a sexual assault has persisted in anti-abortion circles for decades, largely because of the efforts of a Cincinnati obstetrician who is considered a godfather of the movement.

Dr. John C. "Jack" Willke founded the National Right to Life Committee and wrote the influential 1971 "Handbook on Abortion," which has shaped the thinking of generations of anti-abortion activists.

Rep. Todd Akin's comments this week on rape and pregnancy helped upend a Senate race and roiled the Republican Party in a tough election year. But they reflect ideas that the 87-year-old Willke began peddling years ago.

"There's no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape," Willke wrote in 1999 in the journal Christian Life Resources. "This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy."

To anti-abortion activists, Willke is a revered figure. To abortion-rights activists, the onetime sex education lecturer perpetuates myths, eschews facts and ignores science. And to fellow physicians, his ideas are pure fiction.

After Akin's remarks, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said a woman who is raped "has no control over ovulation, fertilization or implantation of a fertilized egg. ... To suggest otherwise contradicts basic biological truths."

Still, the last time Willke appeared at the Ohio Statehouse, GOP lawmakers were "almost worshipful," recalled Cincinnati attorney Al Gerhardstein, an abortion-rights proponent who has often debated Willke. "He's always been a very sincere, passionate advocate for his cause. And I've always been wary that he doesn't let the facts get in the way."

The doctor and his wife, Barbara, have six children. They were prompted to write the handbook by their daughters, who complained about encountering what they regarded as bad information on the subject in college.

The book became an instant touchstone for the anti-abortion movement, selling 1.5 million copies at the height of the sexual revolution.

The authors asserted that a douche, vaginal scraping and medications administered quickly after a rape "invariably" prevents pregnancy. "If the rape victim would report her assault properly, there would be, for all practical purposes, no pregnancies from rape," the couple wrote.

In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, Willke stood by the 1999 article that said sexual assault brings on hormonal changes that could interfere with conception. He also defended Akin, saying the congressman's main mistake was a reference to "legitimate rape," not his statement that women rarely get pregnant from sexual assault.

Anti-abortion activist Janet Folger Porter has Willke's handbook in her reference library. She said it's popular worldwide because it isn't filled with emotional arguments and religious dogma, but hard facts.

"It's spelled out in Q-and-A form," she said. "The whole thing is not Dr. Willke's opinion or dissertation on the issue. It's independent studies, all of them cited, by issue."

The son and grandson of doctors, Willke married Barbara, a nursing professor, writer and lecturer, in 1948. Together they taught pre-marriage and marriage courses for the Catholic church, and became a popular doctor-and-nurse team speaking on sex, love and eventually abortion. Their first book was "The Wonder of Sex," a 1964 sex education guide.

Willke built a busy obstetric practice and emerged as Cincinnati's leading expert on conception.

After the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, he put himself at the center of the issue, appearing frequently at protests, Capitol Hill hearings and on national television. He quit practicing medicine in 1988 to devote his full energy to the movement he helped create.

Gerhardstein said the Republican-controlled state Legislature still defers to Willke. Last spring, Willke visited the Statehouse to promote a bill that would impose the nation's most severe abortion restriction, limiting the procedure at the first detectable fetal heartbeat.

After a hearing on the bill, which is still stalled, Willke was invited by the Republican House speaker to ascend the dais and address the assembled legislators.

"I'm thinking, boy, I've never gotten that kind of treatment," Gerhardstein recalled.

___

Associated Press Writer Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.

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  • Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.)

    "Well, I thought his comments were a little bit outrageous," she <a href="http://www.kjzz.org/content/1208/gov-brewer-akin-comments-little-bit-outrageous-doesnt-call-candidate-drop-out-race" target="_hplink">told KJZZ's Mark Brodie</a>. "I'm not in a position to [decide] whether it's right for the party to pull funding, I mean, those people there raise the money, they get to spend it however they wish."

  • Mitt Romney

    "As I said yesterday, Todd Akin's comments were offensive and wrong and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country," said Romney in a statement. "Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race." Earlier, from an <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/314452/romney-akins-inexcusable-comment-robert-costa" target="_hplink">interview with the National Review</a>: <blockquote>"Congressman's Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong," Romney said. "Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive."</blockquote>

  • Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.)

    "He should be ashamed of himself to be talking about it in that way," Christie said. "It's stunning to me that somebody who's offering themselves for high office like that would have those kind of thoughts and use that kind of language."

  • Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.)

    From <a href="http://mountpleasant.patch.com/articles/gov-scott-walker-says-missouri-senate-candidate-todd-akin-should-get-out" target="_hplink">Patch</a>: <blockquote>Gov. Scott Walker said Tuesday that Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin should drop out of the race after Akin made controversial comments about rape and pregnancy. "Yes, he should step down. Those comments were ignorant at best and outrageous," Walker said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Sturtevant.</blockquote>

  • Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.)

    "He's got to seriously decide what's in the best interest of the party, what's in the best interest of the state of Missouri, and frankly, at this point, given that flat wrong statement, whether he can win," McDonnell <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/bob-mcdonnell-todd-akin_n_1818906.html?1345568504" target="_hplink">told The Huffington Post</a>. "I think there was a belief a month ago, when it was just he and [incumbent Sen. Claire] McCaskill head to head after he got the nomination, that it would be a hard-fought competitive race, with Romney at the top of the ticket and up double digits, that this would be a race that would be winnable for the Republicans," McDonnell said. "To say things that seemed to be so flat wrong and out of touch with both science and the people, I think it makes it very difficult at this point for him to win."

  • NRSC Chair Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

  • Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)

    "It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape ... The ideas that Todd Akin has expressed about the serious crime of rape and the impact on its victims are offensive."

  • Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan Campaign

    "Gov. Romney and Congressman (Paul) Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin's statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape," Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said. "Congressman's Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong," <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/314452/romney-akins-inexcusable-comment-robert-costa" target="_hplink">Romney said</a>. "Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive."

  • Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

    "What he said is just flat wrong in addition to being wildly offensive to any victim of sexual abuse. Although Representative Akin has apologized, I believe he should take time with his family to consider whether this statement will prevent him from effectively representing our party in this critical election," said McConnell, according to the <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-mcconnell-suggests-todd-akin-consider-his-options-20120820,0,5243455.story" target="_hplink"><em>Los Angeles Times</em></a>.

  • Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

  • Elizabeth Warren

  • Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)

    "As a husband and father of two young women, I found <a href="http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/scott-brown-calls-for-todd-akin-to-drop" target="_hplink">Todd Akin's comments</a> about women and rape outrageous, inappropriate and wrong. There is no place in our public discourse for this type of offensive thinking. Not only should he apologize, but I believe Rep. Akin's statement was so far out of bounds that he should resign the nomination for US Senate in Missouri."

  • Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)

    "Whether he has mispoken or whether he has a position that we would have trouble agreeing on, I don't know that. I do know him and I do know his family, and I'm impressed with what they've accomplished. So that's the best I can do with what little bit I know," <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDsQkjnQx5Y&feature=youtu.be" target="_hplink">said King</a>. And later: "I just haven't heard of that being a circumstance that's been brought to me in any personal way," he <a href="http://www.kmeg14.com/story/19324372/rep-steve-king-on-the-campaign-trail" target="_hplink">told KMEG</a>. "I'd be open to hearing discussion about that subject matter."

  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.)

  • Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)

    "I have to agree with those, including Republicans, who have said he should give up his race for Senate," said Van Hollen on <a href="http://video.msnbc.msn.com/newsnation/48728017/#48728017" target="_hplink">NewsNation with Tamron Hall</a>.

  • Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.)

    "Like Joe Biden's comments last week, I find Todd Akin's comments made Sunday to be just as outrageous and offensive. Such insulting and offensive remarks from Joe Biden and Todd Akin have no place in our political discourse," said Mack in a <a href="http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2012/08/connie-mack-cosponsor-of-forcible-rape-bill-links-akins-legitimate-rape-with-bidens-chains-.html" target="_hplink">press release</a>.

  • Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)

  • Cindy McCain

  • Former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.)

    Talent, who once held the Senate seat Akin is running for, declined to endorse Akin on Monday. "It's a decision he has to make," Talent said when asked whether Akin should step aside, according to the <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-todd-akin-stay-in-senate-race-20120820,0,2849040.story" target="_hplink"><em>Los Angeles Times</em></a>. "I can't agree with anything [Akin] said," Talent later clarified.

  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)

    "Now, Akin's choice of words isn't the real issue here. The <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/burns-haberman/2012/08/dnc-email-ties-romney-to-todd-akin-132522.html" target="_hplink">real issue</a> is a Republican party -- led by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan -- whose policies on women and their health are dangerously wrong. I'm outraged at the Republicans trying to take women back to the dark ages -- if you agree, join me in taking a stand for women. Really, it's deeply concerning that Republicans continue to support legislation that is, quite literally, dangerous for women. Mitt Romney famously says he would "get rid of" federal funding for Planned Parenthood if he had the chance. His running mate, Paul Ryan, was one of more than 200 Republican cosponsors of a piece of legislation that would have narrowed the definition of rape. Can you imagine -- the same Republican House that refuses to pass a jobs bill jumped at the opportunity to make life harder for victims of rape? And what do Romney and Ryan think of Akin's latest statement? They've been trying to distance themselves from it -- but Congressman Ryan has already partnered with Akin on a whole host of issues that restrict women's ability to make their own health care decisions."

  • Sarah Steelman, Akin's Former Primary Opponent

  • Meghan McCain

  • Terry O'Neill, President Of The National Organization For Women

    "That kind of rhetoric re-traumatizes sexual assault victims. ... That kind of talk, I believe, is intended to shame women," she told the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/20/todd-akin-rape-comments_n_1810362.html?1345468189" target="_hplink">Associated Press radio</a>, characterizing the remarks as "flat-out astonishing."

  • Mike Murphy, GOP Consultant

  • Michelle Malkin, Conservative Columnist

  • Joe Scarborough, Host Of MSNBC's "Morning Joe"

    "There is a rule," <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/tv/scarborough-reacts-to-akins-rape-remark-conservatives-neglecting-to-choose-the-most-electable-candidate/" target="_hplink">he [Scarborough] continued</a>, "that we conservatives have followed for a long time, and it's the 'Bill Buckley Rule.' You elect the most electable conservative. The person who is the most conservative and who is the most electable is the one you put on the ticket. That's the part of the equation that we're losing over the last three years. And it's making Harry Reid the majority leader."

  • Bryan Fischer, Conservative Radio Host

  • Tom Perriello, President Of Center For American Progress Action Fund

  • Petition By The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

    <blockquote><a href="http://dccc.org/pages/denounce-todd-akin?source=2012.08.20_kw_all" target="_hplink">Sign your name to call</a> on Speaker John Boehner to remove Rep. Todd Akin from the House Science and Technology Committee. Republican Congressman Todd Akin told a Missouri news station: "First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare... If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Someone who believes nonsense like this has no part overseeing science policy. Tell Speaker Boehner to immediately remove Rep. Akin from the House Science and Technology Committee.</blockquote>

  • Susan B. Anthony List

    <blockquote>"Congressman Akin, a longtime pro-life leader, has said he had misspoken, and no one is arguing that rape is anything but a despicable, horrible crime. "Abortion supporters like Sen. Claire McCaskill are trying to use this issue as a smokescreen to hide from their radical, pro-abortion records that are out of step with the majority of Missourians and the American people. On the issues of taxpayer funding of elective abortion in Obamacare, protection of unborn girls being targeted in the womb solely because of their gender, and whether children capable of feeling pain in the womb should be protected, President Obama and Senator McCaskill have been on the wrong side, showing that they favor abortion on-demand, for any reason, up to the moment of birth, subsidized by the taxpayers. "If President Obama and Senator McCaskill care to focus on extreme positions, it is time for self reflection. It is time to answer the question why this president has recently rejected bans on gender selection and late term abortions. "Todd Akin, on the other hand, has a record of voting to protect human life. His opponent does not. Congressman Akin has been an excellent partner in the fight for the unborn."</blockquote>

  • Tea Party Express

    <a href="http://www.teapartyexpress.org/5205/tea-party-express-urges-rep-akin-to-step-down" target="_hplink">Tea Party Express</a>, the nation's largest tea party political action committee, is urging Congressman Todd Akin to resign his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer said, "Congressman Akin's comments this weekend are not just unfortunate and inappropriate, but they are distracting from our main goal of defeating Claire McCaskill and taking the Senate gavel out of the hands of Harry Reid. At a time when our national debt is approaching $16 trillion, job growth is stagnate, and the Senate has failed to pass a budget in over 3 years, we need a candidate that is ready to help lead the charge for conservative solutions. "One of the lessons we learned in 2010 is that we need candidates who are not only conservative, but are capable of putting together a strong campaign against liberal opponents. Akin's frequent 'Bidenisms' are distracting from the important issues at hand. "It is critical that we defeat Senator Claire McCaskill in November, but it will be too difficult to achieve that with Todd Akin as the conservative alternative. He should step down and give conservatives a chance at taking back the Senate in November," Kremer concluded.