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Former St. Louis-area Congressman Todd Akin, plagued by ‘legitimate rape’ comment, dies at 74

File photo / Bill Greenblatt

Former St. Louis-area Republican Congressman Todd Akin, who touched off a national debate about rape and abortion rights when he was running for the U.S. Senate in 2012, died late Sunday at his home in Wildwood.

Akin was 74 and had battled cancer for several years.

“As my father’s death approached, we had people from all different walks of life share story after story of the personal impact he had on them,” his son Perry Akin said in a statement.

“He was a devoted Christian, a great father and friend to many. We cherish many fond memories: from him driving the tractor at our annual hayride, to his riveting delivery of the freedom story at 4th of July parties dressed in the full uniform of a colonial minuteman.

"The family is thankful for his legacy: a man with a servant’s heart who stood for truth.”

Born in New York, Akin grew up in St Louis County.

Akin was a former engineer with a marketing background when he won a seat in the Missouri House in 1988. He quickly became known as a fiscal and social conservative, with strong support from the state’s evangelical community and home schoolers.

He was an opponent of Missouri laws passed in the early 1990s allowing casino gambling.

Akin’s devoted religious base helped him narrowly win a crowded GOP primary in 2000 for the 2nd Congressional District seat, which he won that fall.

In the U.S. House, Akin pressed for more military spending and supported the war in Iraq. But he was an outspoken critic of then-President George W. Bush’s successful effort in 2003 to add drug coverage to the nation’s Medicare program.

In August 2012, Akin set his sights on the U.S. Senate. He won a three-way GOP primary to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

But within weeks, Akin ignited controversy when he explained his anti-abortion position to then-Fox 2 News reporter Charles Jaco. Akin said he opposed any exceptions for rape victims because “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Akin swiftly found himself under fire, with U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, among the state and national Republicans calling for him to step down as a candidate. A national uproar over abortion rights ensued that involved several GOP U.S. Senate candidates in other states.

Akin aired an ad in which he apologized for his choice of words, while standing firm on his anti-abortion views.

But his effort to move on didn’t work. In November 2012, McCaskill defeated Akin by 15 percentage points and swept in most of Missouri’s other statewide Democratic candidates.

In a book he published in 2014, Akin said he regretted running that apology ad because he believed it overshadowed his message.

“By asking the public at large for forgiveness,” Akin wrote, "I was validating the willful misinterpretation of what I had said.”

Akin said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio in 2014 that he believed many Missourians saw him as “a pretty common-sense guy” who shared their opposition to liberal, big-spending proposals.

Survivors include his wife, Lulli, four sons, two daughters and 18 grandchildren.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.