Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock is standing by his statement that when a woman becomes pregnant during a rape "that's something God intended."
He says some people have twisted the meaning of his comment.
Mourdock said in a news conference that he abhors any sexual violence and regrets it if his comment during a debate on Tuesday night (Wednesday, NZT) left another impression. He said he firmly believes all life is precious and that he abhors violence of any kind.
"If they came away with any impression other than that I truly regret it. I apologise if they came away. I've certainly been humbled by the fact that so many people think that somehow was an interpretation," Mourdock said.
"I spoke from my heart. And speaking from my heart, speaking from the deepest level of my faith, I would not apologise. I would be less than faithful if I said anything other than life is precious, I believe it's a gift from God."
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other Republicans have distanced themselves from Mourdock's stance.
Mourdock, who has been locked in one of the country's most expensive and closely watched Senate races, was asked during the final minutes of a debate Tuesday night whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest.
"I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realise 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," Mourdock said.
Mourdock maintained at the news conference that he was misunderstood.
"I think that God can see beauty in every life," Mourdock said. "Certainly, I did not intend to suggest that God wants rape, that God pushes people to rape, that God wants to support or condone evil in any way."
President Barack Obama's campaign jumped on Mourdock's remark, calling it ''demeaning to women.''
The Democratic president, who supports abortion rights, retains an advantage among women, but recent polls have suggested Romney has cut into that edge. In debate appearances and speeches, the Republican challenger has hammered home the message that America's women have suffered economically over the last four years.
Asked about Mourdock's comment on ''The Tonight Show,'' Obama told host Jay Leno that ''Rape is rape. It is a crime.''
Mourdock became the second GOP Senate candidate to find himself on the defensive over comments about rape and pregnancy. Missouri Senate candidate Representative Todd Akin said in August that women's bodies have ways of preventing pregnancy in cases of what he called "legitimate rape."
Since his comment, Akin has repeatedly apologised but has refused to leave his race despite calls to do so by leaders of his own party, including GOP presidential hopeful Romney.
New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte cancelled her plan to campaign on Wednesday with Mourdock. Ayotte's spokesman, Jeff Grappone, said that the senator disagrees with Mourdock's comments, which do not represent her views.
More than two dozen Indiana Republicans met for the Mourdock fundraiser Ayotte was supposed to headline on Wednesday afternoon. Speaking inside the fundraiser hosted by the Indianapolis Women's Republican Club, state party chairman Eric Holcomb declined comment on Mourdock's refusal to apologise.
"I think he covered it," Holcomb said. Asked if Ayotte's cancellation would hurt Mourdock's fundraising, Holcomb said "I think we're full steam ahead."
Mourdock also was scheduled to appear at a Republican fundraiser on Wednesday night in the wealthy Indianapolis suburb of Carmel.
Other Republicans were split on their reaction to Mourdock.
Indiana gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence, who has been a leading social conservative in Congress, said Mourdock should apologise for the comment.
Spokeswomen for the two Republican women running for Congress in Indiana, Jackie Walorski and Susan Brooks, said they also disagreed with Mourdock's comments.
But the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has invested heavily in Mourdock and Indiana, said the candidate's words were being twisted.
"Richard and I, along with millions of Americans - including even Joe Donnelly - believe that life is a gift from God. To try and construe his words as anything other than a restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous," NRSC Chairman and Texas Senator John Cornyn said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear what effect Mourdock's comments might have during the final two weeks in the increasingly tight race against Democratic Representative Joe Donnelly. But they could prove problematic. Romney distanced himself from Mourdock on Tuesday - a day after a television ad featuring the former Massachusetts governor supporting the GOP Senate candidate began airing in Indiana.
"Governor Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock's comments, and they do not reflect his views," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in an email to The Associated Press. Romney aides said his ad supporting Mourdock would not be pulled from Indiana's airwaves.
National Democrats quickly picked up on Mourdock's statement and used it as an opportunity to paint him as an extreme candidate, calling him a tea party "zealot."
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz described Mourdock's comments as "outrageous and demeaning to women" and called on Romney to take his pro-Mourdock ad off the air.
Mourdock has consistently opposed abortion, with the exception of cases where the mother's life is in danger. His stark anti-abortion stance earned him the endorsement of Indiana Right to Life in the Republican primary and the general election.
In response, Donnelly said after the debate in southern Indiana that he doesn't believe "my God, or any God, would intend that to happen."
Mourdock, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress three times before becoming state treasurer, became one of the tea party's biggest winners of the 2012 primary season when he knocked off veteran Indiana Senator Richard Lugar in a brutal campaign. Initially, national Republicans stayed out of the Indiana race because the race had appeared to be a likely win for the GOP.
But as the race grew tighter in recent months, Mourdock changed his tune and started trying to woo moderate voters.
At the same time, top Republicans began stumping for Mourdock around the state in a push to break open the high-stakes Senate race.
Republicans need to gain three seats, or four if President Barack Obama wins re-election, and seats that were predicted to remain or turn Republican have grown uncertain.
Donnelly, a moderate Democrat who opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or where the life of the mother is in danger, has spent much of his campaign highlighting Mourdock's tea party ties and trying to accuse him of being too extreme even for conservative Indiana.