BURBANK, Calif. (CBS) -- President Barack Obama is criticizing a Republican Senate candidate for his comments about women and rape, saying that "rape is rape" and that distinctions offered by the Republican candidate, in Obama's words, "don't make any sense to me."
The Tea Party-backed Republican in Indiana's Senate race, Richard Mourdock, said during a debate Tuesday night that when pregnancy results from rape, that is "something God intended."
Asked about Mourdock's comment Wednesday on "The Tonight Show," Obama told host Jay Leno, quote: "Rape is rape. It is a crime."
Obama says such remarks reflect why politicians, mostly male, shouldn't be making decisions about women's health care. He also says that women are capable of making their own decisions and that intrusions by politicians is part of what's at stake in the presidential election.
Just as Mitt Romney and other Republicans had cut into the Democrats' advantage with female voters, Mourdock's awkward remark has propelled the emotional issue of abortion back to the political forefront. It's put GOP candidates in tight races, from the presidential candidate on down, on the defensive.
Divisive social issues are hardly what most GOP candidates want to be discussing in the few days remaining until elections largely hinging on jobs and the economy. Almost immediately after Mourdock's comment, Republican candidates distanced themselves from the Indiana state treasurer - though by varying degrees.
The Romney campaign immediately distanced itself from Mourdock's comments, and stressed that Romney's position on abortion - he supports exceptions in cases of rape, incest and when the mother's life is in danger - differs from that of Mourdock. Mourdock supports exceptions for abortion only when the mother's life is in danger, the same position that many conservatives, including Romney's vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, also espouse.
"Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock, and Mr. Mourdock's comments do not reflect Gov. Romney's views. We disagree on the policy regarding exceptions for rape and incest but still support him," said Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul.
Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, told CNN that his continued support of Mourdock "depends on what he does." Earlier, he had endorsed Mourdock, but said he was rethinking it.
The Arizona lawmaker who was the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee, said he wants to see "if he apologizes and says he misspoke and he was wrong and asks people to forgive him. It's when you don't own up to it that people will not believe in you."
Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, struggling to hold onto his seat against a challenge from Democrat Elizabeth Warren, said he was "a pro-choice Republican and that's not what I believe and I disagree with what he said." Pressed on his support for Mourdock's candidacy, Brown said that was up to Indiana voters.
Connecticut Republican Linda McMahon, bidding for the Senate seat there, called Mourdock's remarks "highly inappropriate and offensive. They do not reflect my beliefs as a woman or a pro-choice candidate."
New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who had planned to campaign with Mourdock in Indiana, canceled her appearance.
In Wisconsin, former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, who faces Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin, called Mourdock's comments "really sad."
"I've got a wife and two daughters and six granddaughters," he said in an interview. "Anything dealing with rape against women is uncalled for. Period. No tolerance whatsoever."
© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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