The Charleston researcher whose 1996 study on rape-related pregnancies has gotten new attention this week criticized U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s controversial comments on the topic, but said they have prompted an important national discussion.

Akin, a Missouri Republican running for U.S. Senate, said Sunday in a television interview that women’s bodies have ways of preventing pregnancies in cases of what he called “legitimate rape.”

Dean Kilpatrick, a professor and director of the National Crime Victims Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, wrote the study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that concluded that about 5 percent of rape victims become pregnant.

That’s about the same frequency as consensual sex, medical literature and experts suggest.

Kilpatrick’s study, which followed more than 3,000 women over a three-year period, concluded that more than 32,000 American women annually become pregnant following rape.

On Friday, he said that number is probably closer to 50,000 today. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites the study on its website.

“Akin’s comments prompted an outrage,” said Kilpatrick, who has been involved with research on rape for nearly four decades and is one of the founders of the state’s first rape crisis center. “People became curious about whether there’s any factual basis for what he said. As a result, a lot of good information is being discussed openly.”

Echoing the research and medical opinions that have surfaced over the past week, Kilpatrick said, “The short answer is that physiologically there is no basis for Akin’s comment.”

Akin has apologized for his remark, saying he misspoke. The congressman has rebuffed demands from top Republicans that he withdraw from his Senate race.

Wesley Donehue, a South Carolina political operative who was hired as a consultant for Akin, said the candidate should “get another chance.”

“Everyone messes up once in a while,” Donehue said. “He has asked for forgiveness, and now it’s time to move on.”

Donehue noted that Akin’s campaign has raised $200,000 from 3,000 individual donors nationally over the past week.

Other South Carolinians were less forgiving.

Pamela Jacobs, executive director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, in Columbia, said she was “shocked that someone would even say something like that out loud.”

Like Kilpatrick, however, she said she was “very happy to see that it prompted a reaction and started a good dialogue.”

Melonea Locklair Marek, executive director of Charleston’s People Against Rape organization, took issue with Akin’s use of the word “legitimate.”

“I had to read it three or four times, asking myself, ‘Did he really say that?’?” Locklair Marek said. “I read that as, ‘These women lie about it.’ It turns into victim-blaming.”

Reach Renee Dudley at 937-5550 or on Twitter @renee_dudley.