When Representative Todd Akin, a six-term congressman who is running for senate in Missouri, proclaimed that women who are the victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant, he unleashed a firestorm of righteous indignation predictably countered by the equally intense vitriol of a small but vocal minority of defenders. Specifically, he declared, “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors that [unwanted pregnancy that occurs as a result of rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
The Facts About Rape and Pregnancy
Is there any truth to Representative Akin’s pronouncement? No. Akin’s statement reflects what can only be described as a willful ignorance on the subject. Here are the facts:
- There are over 200,000 rapes reported each year in the US (that translates to about 1 rape every 2 minutes). If this seems high to you, then consider the fact that rape is the most under-reported crime in the US, and it’s estimated that the actual number of rapes (defined as a sexual assault, almost always involving actual sexual intercourse, that is nonconsensual) is anywhere from 2 to 5 times higher than that.
- The overall incidence of pregnancy, reported in a study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, is about 5 percent, or 1 in every 20 rapes. Based on the conservative number of 200,000 rapes per year, that translates to 10,000 pregnancies in the US every year from rape.
- Pregnancy isn’t the only effect of rape. Victims of rape are 3 times more likely to suffer from depression, 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide compared to the general population.
What the Science Says
One has to wonder to what doctors Mr. Akin was referring in his statement above, and the finger points most directly to Dr. John Willke, former president of the National Right to Life Committee, who has claimed that the traumatic nature of a rape renders a woman effectively immune to pregnancy. Earlier this week, Willke made the following statement:
“This is a traumatic thing–she’s, shall we say, she’s uptight. She is frightened, tight, and so on. And sperm, if deposited in her vagina, are less likely to be able to fertilize. The tubes are spastic.”
The statistics above belie this assertion. There is no evidence to support Dr. Wilke’s claim that the uniquely devastating circumstances surrounding a rape reduce a victim’s likelihood of becoming pregnant as a result of the attack. In fact, the evidence shows that pregnancy occurs as a result of rape with significant frequency.
In short, there is nothing in Representative Akin’s comments that can stand up to even the most cursory scientific scrutiny.
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: http://www.rainn.org/statistics.