OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - Tea Party politician John Koster, the Republican nominee for a hotly contested congressional seat in Washington state, says he opposes abortions, even in cases of “the rape thing,” because it is tantamount to inflicting “more violence onto a woman’s body.”
The Snohomish County councilman made the comments during a weekend fundraising appearance in the Puget Sound city of Everett, north of Seattle, that was captured in a recording released on Wednesday by the liberal activist group Fuse Washington.
Long known as an opponent of abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, Koster was asked if there were any circumstances under which he would approve of terminating a pregnancy.
“When a mother’s life is in danger ... I’m not going to make that decision,” he replied, before going on to talk about incest and rape.
“Incest is so rare, I mean, it’s so rare. But the rape thing, you know, I know a woman who was raped and kept her child, gave it up for adoption. She doesn’t regret it. In fact, she is a big pro-life proponent,” he said in the recording.
He continued by asking a rhetorical question: “But on the rape thing, it’s like, how does putting more violence onto a woman’s body and taking the life of an innocent child that’s a consequence of this crime, how does that make it better?”
The remarks drew sharp criticism from the campaign of his Democratic foe, former Microsoft executive and state revenue director Suzan DelBene - a spokesman said it showed Koster to be “out of touch” - and from abortion-rights supporters.
“There are far too many extreme politicians out there that are trying to be involved in a woman’s personal medical decisions about her pregnancy,” Sara Kiesler of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
The flap marked the latest instance of a Republican congressional candidate stirring controversy with comments about abortion and rape.
Richard Mourdock, the Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate seat in Indiana, said during a debate last Tuesday that pregnancy from rape was “something that God intended to happen.” And Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin in August caused an uproar by saying women have natural defenses against pregnancy from “legitimate rape.”
In a statement posted on its website on Wednesday, Koster’s campaign accused DelBene supporters of engaging in “dirty tricks” by circulating the recording of his remarks, and suggested his words were taken out of context.
“The recording was done secretly, then edited to suit DelBene’s agenda,” campaign manager Larry Stickney said. “The insinuation that John Koster is in some way ‘callous or ‘cavalier’ when it comes to the subject of rape is another example of the vicious and desperate tactics ... employed to slander the good name of John Koster.”
During his term as a state lawmaker, Koster sponsored tough “two strikes, you’re out” legislation to lock up violent sex offenders permanently, his website said.
The race between Koster and DelBene for Washington state’s newly drawn first congressional district seat, vacated by Democrat Jay Inslee when he resigned to run for governor, is considered a tossup.
Koster, a former dairy farmer with close affiliations with and support from the Tea Party movement, has lost two previous bids for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Eric Walsh