William Todd Akin, a six-term Republican representative from Missouri who gave up a safe seat to run for the Senate in 2012, only to see his campaign collapse in a hail of recriminations after a remark about “legitimate rape,” died on Sunday at his home in a St. Louis suburb. He was 74.
His death in Wildwood, Mo., after years of battling cancer, was confirmed by Perry Akin, his son, in a statement to The Associated Press.
Mr. Akin, an opponent of abortion whose political rise was fueled by evangelicals, provoked ire across the political spectrum after he claimed in a television interview in August 2012 that women’s bodies could somehow reject pregnancies in instances of what he called “legitimate rape.”
“The female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Mr. Akin said when asked about his stance on abortion in cases in which a woman had been sexually assaulted. “But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child,” he added.
Republicans, too, were incensed by the comments — some were offended and others were angered that Mr. Akin damaged the Republicans’ bid for a crucial Senate seat that he had been favored to win before the interview.
The Republican presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan quickly distanced itself from Mr. Akin’s remarks.
“His comments about rape were deeply offensive, and I can’t defend what he said,” Mr. Romney said in a statement at the time. “I can’t defend him.”
Republicans withdrew funds and support in an attempt to drive Mr. Akin from the race. Ultimately, he declined calls to step down and was soundly beaten by Senator Claire McCaskill, the Democratic incumbent.
Though Mr. Akin initially apologized for the comments, he later defended them in a book published in 2014 that detailed his experience as a six-term Republican congressman. By asking the public for forgiveness, Mr. Akin wrote in the book, he had validated the “willful misinterpretation” of what he had said.
Mr. Akin was born to Paul and Nancy Akin on July 5, 1947, in New York and grew up near St. Louis. He graduated from an elite prep school, John Burroughs, and received a degree in engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts before earning a master’s in divinity from the Covenant Theological Seminary in Missouri. He worked as a manager at Laclede Steel, which his great-grandfather founded.
A member of the Presbyterian Church in America, he was first elected to the Missouri House in 1988, gaining support from his first political base as part of a network of parents who home-schooled their children; Mr. Akin home-schooled all six of his.
In 2000, he was elected to Congress in what analysts at the time said was a stroke of political fortune. He was seen as an outside candidate in a five-way Republican primary, and he won by 56 votes as the more moderate candidates ate into one another’s totals.
As a legislator, he unapologetically centered his faith, driven by a belief that God had given him a mission to serve.
“He wouldn’t violate his beliefs if you shot him,” Rick Mathes, of the Mission Gate Prison Ministry where Mr. Akin served on the advisory board, said in 2012.
In his 2012 concession speech, Mr. Akin said after “the circumstances that we’ve all been through” it was “particularly appropriate to thank God, who makes no mistakes and is much wiser than we are.”
“And so I say, to God alone be the honor and the glory, regardless of how he decides to organize history,” he said.
Information about Mr. Akin’s survivors was not immediately available.