Myth about rape and pregnancy has a long history

Todd Akin the Republican Senate nominee for Missouri has created a storm of controvery with his remarks on rape and pregancy. Atkin claimed that pregnancies from rape are quite rare since :“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” His choice of the word "legitimate" is itself controversial. Perhhaps he meant to distinguish between an actual rape and a false claim of being raped. Akin claimed the sources of his information were doctors but he did not identify them.

The Center for Disease Control cites a study that estimates 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year. This is a rather strange estimate. An estimate should surely be a more rounded number such as 32,000! Anyway if the estimate is in the ball park aboutk 5 per cent of raped women become pregnant. This is not exactly rare I should think and the absolute number is rather large. In any event for the individual involved the numbers who face the same situation is less relevant than the choices available to her.

Even though the position is not supported by the facts several politicians opposed to abortion have voiced the same opinion as Akin. In 1988 in Arkansas Dr. Fay Boozman a Republican Canidate for Senate said that hormones generated by fear usually prevented rape victims from getting pregnant. The doctor an ophthalmologist claimed he learned his facts from anecdotal information and his own medical residency. Although he lost his election gamble Dr. Boozman was appointed to run the Arkansas Dept. of Health by then Governor Mike Huckabee.

Back in 1995 a Republican member of the North Carolina state legislature dentist Henry Aldridge said in a debate:: “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 further explanation of his remarks “To get pregnant, it takes a little cooperation. And there ain’t much cooperation in a rape.”

The view adopted by a number of politicians is not at all new. In fact medical historian Vanessa Heggie notes: “The legal position that pregnancy disproved a claim of rape appears to have been instituted in the U.K. sometime in the 13th century,” One of the UK's earliest legal text written about the end of the thirteenth century said: “If, however, the woman should have conceived at the time alleged in the appeal, it abates, for without a woman’s consent she could not conceive.” Ms. Heggie notes that the view that a woman had to have an orgasm in order to conceive was apparently widespread in popular thought as well as medical literature in both the medieval and early modern period. Ms. Heggie might add that it is also still prevalent among a few politicians in the twenty-first century. For more see this article.


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