By JIM SALTER
BALLWIN, Mo. (AP) - Petitions with 40,000 signatures were delivered to the office of Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Akin on Wednesday, calling the Missouri congressman's views on rape "cruel and deeply offensive" and demanding he withdraw from the U.S. Senate race.
About a dozen supports and advocates for Planned Parenthood, many wearing pink and holding signs reading "I'm watching and I will vote," gathered at Akin's office in the St. Louis suburb of Ballwin to deliver the petitions. Akin aide Steve Taylor met the protesters for several minutes outside, then invited five in for a face-to-face talk.
Akin has been at the center of criticism since suggesting during an interview that a woman's body is able prevent pregnancy in cases of what he called "a legitimate rape." He has repeatedly apologized since the interview aired Aug. 19, saying he misspoke and that his facts about preventing conception were wrong.
But the congressman - a vocal opponent of abortion, even in cases of rape and incest - has refused to abandon his Senate bid despite intense pressure from his party, including from GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Republicans fear his presence will cost them an opportunity to unseat Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.
"Obviously, he has stated that the statement was hurtful, wrong and he has apologized," Taylor said. "We also realize, though, that there are going to be differences of opinion on policy, and he does not apologize for his pro-life positions."
The petition signatures were gathered online and signed by people across the country, said M'Evie Mead, director of Planned Parenthood Advocates, the organization's advocacy arm. The petition drive began the day after the interview aired on KTVI-TV in St. Louis.
"It's horrifying to label some rapes not "legitimate,"' the petition reads. "Your comments show just how little compassion you have for the millions of survivors of rape and sexual assault in Missouri and nationwide.
"Nobody with your cruel and deeply offensive views belongs in the Senate," the petition states.
Akin was not at the district office Wednesday. Taylor said the congressman was on the campaign trail but declined to give specific details.
Supporters of Planned Parenthood are also protesting at this week's Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., over Romney's call to end federal funding for the organization.
Planned Parenthood has long been at odds with Akin, listing him among its "Toxic Ten" legislators. Akin includes that listing on his Senate campaign website.