Todd Akin is Republican Senate nominee for Missouri. Remarks he made in a TV interview in Missouri have brought howls of outrage from Democrats and even from some Republicans. What Akin said i
s that pregnancies resulting from rape are quite rare because:
“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Akin's remarks should be interpreted in the larger context of attempts by some pro-life groups to restrict abortion funding. As the appended video shows
a group of politicians over a year ago had tried to define "rape" narrowly in order to restrict the range of abortions that could be funded by the government. The law restricts government funding except for rape, incest, and life threatening situations. An attempt was made back then to define rape as "forcible" rape. In an interview with Mike Huckabee Akin explained that this was his meaning. Akin wants to even further reduce access to funding for rape cases by suggesting that forcible rape cases rarely result in pregnancy. However cases of pregnancy resulting from rape are not all that rare. In any event the issue is surely not the numbers but a woman's access to the choice of an abortion if she wishes to terminate a pregnancy that resulted from rape.
of the Washington Post's Wonkblog claims there is no scientific evidence supporting Akin's claims. Akin himself referred to doctors whom he did not name as a basis for his statements. A study cited by the Centers for Disease Control estimated there are over 32,000 pregnancies from rape each year in the U.S. or a rate of about 5%.
In spite of the lack of more than anecdotal evidence to support Akin's views a number of politicians have used similar arguments. In 1998 Dr. Fay Boozman Republican candidate for Senate claimed that hormones generated from fear usually prevented rape victims from getting pregnant. As support for his position Boozman cited anecdotal evidence and his experience from his medical residency. Although Boozman failed in his senate bid he was later appointed head of the Arkansas Department of Health by the then Governor Mike Huckabee.
In 1995 Henry Aldridge
a dentist and Republican member of the North Carolina legislature advanced.a position similar to the of Atkin. Aldridge argued:
“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....To get pregnant, it takes a little cooperation. And there ain’t much cooperation in a rape.”
These contemporary politicians still hold views that were common from medieval up to early modern times. Vannessa Heggie a medical historian wrote in a Guardian blog t
hat pregnancy was used to disprove claims of rape as early as the 13th century: An early legal text written in 1290 explains:
“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.”
Attempts to disallow abortions even in rape cases is common to most pro-life adherents. Since most pro-lifers consider from the moment of conception there is a human being present with an equal right to life as any other human, it is understandable why they would argue against abortion due to rape. In their eyes the fetus is an innocent human being and terminating it is killing an innocent person. Judith Jarvis Thomson
has a classic article that argues that even if the pro-life assumption were true that it would still be morally justified to terminate the fetus in cases of rape. Most in favor of abortion however would not agree with the view that a fertilized egg has the same right to life as an adult member of the human species or perhaps any right to life at all.