KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Republican Missouri Senate candidate Mark McCloskey told an audience last week he believes 13-year-old rape and incest victims should not be allowed to have abortions, stating he had a client who was raped at 13 but who gave birth to a child who now has a master’s degree.

He made the comments in response to an audience member’s question at a forum in Osage Beach.

“There’s a lot of candidates that say they’re pro-life but really they’re not completely pro-life,” the woman in the audience said, according to a video of the event posted on Facebook. “There’s a lot of, ‘Well in this case it would be allowed.'”

McCloskey, a St. Louis personal injury attorney, responded that he doesn’t “believe in any exceptions.”

“We were down in Poplar Bluff a couple of months ago, and somebody asked me that question, ‘So you would force a 13-year-old who’s raped by a family member to keep that baby?'” he said. “And I said, ‘Yes, and more than that I’ve got that client.’ I’ve got a client who was raped by an uncle when she was 13 years old, had the child; she finished high school, finished college and got a master’s degree. That child she would have aborted finished high school, finished college and now has a master’s degree.”

It’s not clear whether McCloskey meant both the mother and the child got master’s degrees. His campaign could not immediately be reached for comment on the circumstances of the mother becoming his client.

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He also didn’t explicitly discuss whether his no-exceptions view includes abortions to save the life of the mother.

The statements are among the most aggressive yet from Republicans seeking to curb abortions with few exceptions. Missouri passed a law in 2019 banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape and incest, but it has so far been blocked from implementation by a federal court. Most Missouri Republicans are anti-abortion but few have addressed questions of rape and incest directly.

A portion of his comments was captured and sent to The Kansas City Star by American Bridge, a Democratic research organization. The full hour-and-a-half candidate forum, hosted by We the People Camden County, was also posted online.

Jane Cunningham, a Republican former state senator who attended the event, said the audience was thrilled by his answer. The “right to life” is a key part in the decision-making of primary voters, she said.

“It’s one of the litmus tests if you’re running in a Republican primary,” Cunningham said.

Abortion exceptions have been a treacherous topic for Republicans running for U.S. Senate. In 2012, then-Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for Senate, was asked by a television station whether he supported abortion rights for women who had been raped.

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Akin, who died of cancer this month, responded, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” in a comment that sank his Senate campaign.

Abortion rights nationally hinge on a Supreme Court case, to be heard later this year, concerning Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. The court in that case could overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 precedent that set a constitutional right to the procedure in the first trimester.

If Roe is struck down, Congress may take a more active role in regulating abortion. In September, the House passed a bill that would codify abortion rights in federal law. It’s virtually doomed to fail in the current Senate, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

McCloskey and his wife were catapulted to fame last summer when they brandished guns at Black Lives Matter protesters who were marching down their street in St. Louis. He launched a campaign for Senate this year and later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in the incident. His wife pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment; Gov. Mike Parson granted both a promised pardon weeks later.

McCloskey has donated to Democratic candidates in the past, including former Sen. Claire McCaskill, who defeated Akin in 2012.

In Osage Beach, he said it had bothered him “as long ago as when I was in grade school” that some death penalty opponents also support abortion rights. His comments received applause from the audience.

“The justice of the Supreme Court in the most heinous crimes don’t have the right to decide who should live and die,” he said. “But every 13-year-old girl on the street should be able to decide the fate of the life of their child?”