US Senate candidate Richard Mourdock drew fire on late Tuesday after saying that pregnancies caused by rape were "something god intended to happen" while defending his opposition to abortion.
Democrats were quick to condemn the remarks, which could spark a major controversy in the final two weeks of a presidential campaign in which women voters are seen as crucial.
Speaking at a Senate debate, Mourdock said he believed life begins at conception and opposed abortion in all cases except when the mother's life was in danger.
"I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize 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," he said.
Indiana Democratic Party chair Dan Parker quickly responded, issuing a statement saying that "as a pro-life Catholic, I'm stunned and ashamed that Richard Mourdock believes God intended rape."
"Victims of rape are victims of an extremely violent act, and mine is not a violent God. Do we need any more proof that Richard Mourdock is an extremist who's out of touch with Hoosiers?" he asked, referring to Indiana natives.
The exchange threatened to put the divisive issue of abortion front and center in the closely fought presidential race.
That may benefit President Barack Obama, who has accused his Republican rival Mitt Romney of having extreme views on women's rights.