WASHINGTON: So what does constitute legitimate rape? Which ones are illegitimate? And what is the difference between rape and ''forcible rape''?
The Republican vice-presidential hopeful, Paul Ryan, could clear up that last question.
It took only hours for the presumed Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, and his running mate, Ryan, to distance themselves from the Missouri congressman and Senate candidate Todd Akin after he declared that in cases of ''legitimate rape'' a woman's body commonly prevented pregnancy.
''Congressman Akin's comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable and, frankly, wrong,'' Mr Romney said. ''Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive.''
And within a day the party had cut funding for Mr Akin's campaign, despite his apology.
''I made that statement in error,'' Mr Akin told his friend, the radio host and former Republican Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. ''Rape is never legitimate. It is an evil act.''
Despite Mr Romney's haste in cutting Mr Akin adrift, his campaign may be damaged by the comments, if only because they have re-ignited interest in Mr Ryan's views on abortion.
Last year, Mr Akin and Mr Ryan were among the co-sponsors of a bill that used the term ''forcible rape'' and sought to narrow the definition of rape in an effort to cut funding for abortion.
It did not define ''forcible rape'' and the language was eventually scrapped.
Critics argued the term could exclude women who were drugged and raped, mentally disabled women who were coerced and victims of statutory rape, the news website Boston.com reported.
Mr Ryan's staunch Catholicism is well known, and his conservative views on social issues are thought to be one reason he was hired by Mr Romney, who is suspected of holding moderate views by some on the right.
The National Right to Life Association has tallied Mr Ryan's 59 votes in support of restrictions on abortion and granted him a perfect rating. (Powerful lobby groups in the US often rate politicians and publish voting guides.)
''I am as pro-life as a person gets,'' he once boasted to the conservative Weekly Standard magazine.
He has supported a federal ''personhood law'' that would extend to foetuses the same rights as people, effectively banning all abortions, and he has backed another banning soldiers from abortions in military hospitals.
Mr Ryan has never voiced the view Mr Akin expressed, that in cases of ''legitimate rape'' women do not become pregnant, but he is now being linked to it by association.
This opinion has no history in medical literature, but has been popping up in conservative circles since the Republicans forged an alliance with the religious right in the early 1980s.
It was first set out by Jack Willke, the former president of the US National Right to Life Committee, in a 1971 book he wrote with his wife, and has been demolished by doctors and scientists time and again over the years. Dr Willke stands by it, an interview in Monday's Los Angeles Times revealed.
It was again voiced by the Republican Stephen Freind in 1988, and in 1995, by the congressman Henry Aldridge, who explained: ''The facts show that people who are raped - who are truly raped - the juices don't flow, the body functions don't work and they don't get pregnant.'' In 1998, the Arkansas politician Fay Boozman also gave it an airing.
The theory would appear to justify banning abortions for rape victims by suggesting pregnancy disproved the rape claim.
As Mr Ryan and Mr Romney travelled to New Hampshire yesterday to discuss the stagnant US economy, Barack Obama, appeared unannounced in the White House briefing room to field questions for the first time in months. First question? Mr Akin.
''The views expressed were offensive,'' the President said. ''Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we're talking about doesn't make sense to the American people. And it certainly doesn't make sense to me.''
He did not believe it was appropriate for male politicians to make decisions on behalf of women for their health care or qualifying forcible rape versus non-forcible rape. ''Those are broader issues and that is a significant difference in approach between me and the other party.''
Polls show the Democrats have a significant lead among women in key states. They have long been accusing the Republicans of engaging in a ''war on women''.
There was nothing spontaneous about Mr Obama's appearance or his choice of words.