Rape, Pregnancy and the Akin ControversyRev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director of Christian Life Resources
In a media hungry for controversy Congressman Todd Akin appeared as a tidy morsel of thoughtlessness. And what began as an appetizer has grown into a full course meal of presumed misinformation.
On Sunday, August 19, 2012 Rep. Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” There you have it! Enough words to feast on but let’s dissect it.
Akin referenced a “legitimate rape.” Hard to conclude anything but thoughtlessness to speak of a “legitimate rape,” as if there were any other kind of rape. In a world of sound bites Akin got bit. But is there such a thing as an “illegitimate rape”?
The most conservative studies have suggested false rape reports account for 4%-8% of all reported rapes. So, 4%-8% of rape reports could rightfully be called “illegitimate rapes.”
But it dodges the real point. In an issue as emotionally charged as rape, any qualification is dangerous and open to misunderstanding if not intentional misinterpretation.
As one might expect, Akin felt the harsh rebuke of those seeking an opportunity to portray him as insensitive. In a campaign ad response to the criticism Akin stated:
Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize. As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault. And I pray for them. The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The truth is, rape has many victims.
The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.
Taking Representative Akin’s words in the best possible way we can accept his apology for failing to respect the high emotion of the rape issue. Now, how do the facts hold up?
Akin suggested that the emotional trauma of a rape creates some sort of natural birth control reflex in a woman’s body. He does not say pregnancies never occur, but in fairness he does not acknowledge that fact either. Is he just clinging in hearsay and rumor?
Right now news sources are quick to repeat the familiar mantra that a pregnancy occurs in 5% of rape cases. It is a 16-year-old statistic lifted from a study of 4,008 women. A 1982 study of 692 women suggested the chance of pregnancy occurring from a rape to be between 2% and 4%. While statistically 2% to 5% is not a large percentage, for the victim the prospect no matter how remote emotionally compounds an already traumatic event.
But let’s be honest here – Akin violated the emotional sanctity of this topic with his term, “legitimate rape.” We now want to know the accuracy of his statement. Emotionally, there is no debate that even 2% is 2% too much. Is it true that the trauma of the rape reduces the chances for pregnancy?
I have yet to see a study that demonstrates some sort of contraceptive effect from a rape. I do believe, however, it is not an unwarranted conclusion.
According to eMedicineHealth, a woman who is a typical user of combination hormonal pills has an 8% chance of getting pregnant over the course of the year. If her partner is a typical user of the male condom she has a 15% chance of getting pregnant over the course of the year. If she has never delivered a child and is a typical user of a cervical cap she has a 16% chance of getting pregnant over the course of the year. If she and her partner were typical in practicing the withdrawal method, she would have a 27% chance of getting pregnant over the course of the year. And finally, if neither she or her partner used any form of birth control, she would have an 85% chance of getting pregnant over the course of the year.
Eugene F. Diamond, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Past Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, wrote in the “To the Editor” section of the April 11, 1985 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine:
Pregnancy is rare after a single act of forcible rape. In a prospective study of 4000 rapes in Minnesota, there were no pregnancies. In a retrospective study covering nine years in Chicago, there were no pregnancies. In a prospective study of 117 rapes there were no pregnancies among either the 17 victims who received DES or the 100 who did not.
Statistically speaking, it appears something happens in a rape, either with the victim or with the perpetrator, that reduces the incidence of pregnancy. Fertility specialists continually debate the role of emotions, unresolved conflicts and trauma play in female infertility. As you review the literature you will see there are strong convictions on both sides.
That all being said, could Akin be right? Does the 2% to 5% of rapes resulting in pregnancy (single event incidence) suggest something else is “shutting down” what otherwise could be a 27% (withdrawal) to 85% (no birth control method) chance of getting pregnant over the course of the year?
The Real Point
In a rape in which pregnancy does occur there are two victims – the woman and her unborn child. The suggestion that an unborn child should be classified as a victim along with the woman is the rub. The naïve component of the abortion-rights movement likes to continue the outdated mantra that in the early stages of the pregnancy it is merely a blob of cells. As such it is of no value compared to the needs of the mother.
The more sophisticated element of the abortion rights movement are more honest in their evaluations and shocking in their conclusions. The sophisticated advocate admits that in an abortion a child dies. It is not profound logic that leads to this conclusion. After all, upon fertilization it is a chromosomally unique individual that grows and migrates down the fallopian tube and implants in the uterine wall. Even if prevented from implanting, the developing life could continue maturing as a human being with nourishment and care. Today they can be transplanted into surrogate mothers and we are still hearing rumors of progress made in the invention of an artificial womb. At fertilization that embryo was you as it was you at implantation in the uterine wall, as it was you when you made that first in utero kick, as it was you at birth, at school, at marriage, as a parent and as a grandparent.
So the sophisticated advocates of abortion acknowledge that in abortion a child dies and consider it a sad but necessary evil to protect the autonomy of the mother. It is of subordinate value to the life of the mother. By referring to the mother and baby both as victims injects emotional value to both mother and the child – something abortion-rights advocates want to avoid.
Akin’s point was that killing one of the two victims of a rape is morally wrong. At the same time Akin’s supports toughening the law against the rapists. Now, that is focusing the punishment on the real fiend!
It is hard for any of us to get past the emotion of the rape experience. Its violation of human dignity and intimacy is atrocious. The memory never disappears and an entire future is altered. Akin, as many others of a pro-life persuasion, want harsher punishments for rapists. They want greater support services and protection for women in danger of rape and for those who have been raped. They also want to protect a woman who will never forget her rape from compounding the tragedy of terminating her own child’s life.
Without a doubt Akin could have said what he said much differently and with more sensitivity. Also, in the interest of winning the favor of the general public he must also accept the fact that most people today can’t get past the thought of the rape event. His advocacy for protecting the unborn child conceived from a rape is morally correct but at this time is not politically prudent.
We live in a nation that has taken the lives of more than 54 million unborn children through abortion. Getting society to realize the error of all that is a big and noble task. Opinion polls suggest we are making progress but we aren’t there yet.
I would counsel Akin to focus on that larger picture and leave the emotionally distorting event of pregnancy from a rape for a later day when society is better educated. It is a prudent move which does not desert the plight of the unborn child resulting from a rape but rather is taking the steps for progress where you can get it for a greater and more lasting solution in the future.
The enemies of Representative Akin would consider his defeat in the run for the U.S. Senate dessert. I am more hopeful that the proper education that can come out of all this might better result in tougher laws against rapists, care and support for the women who have been raped, and protection for the most defenseless of all – the unborn child. Now wouldn’t that be sweet!
By Pastor Robert Fleischmann, National Director of Christian Life Resources
August 21, 2012
 “Section II: Crime Index Offenses Reported”. FBI, 1996 and Kelly. L., Lovett, J., Regan, L. (2005). “A gap or a chasm? Attrition in reported rape cases”. Home Office Research Study 293. London: Home Office. Lonsway, Kimberley A.; Aschambault, Joanne; Lisak, David (2009). “False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issue to Successfully Investigate and Prosecute Non-Stranger Sexual Assault”. The Voice 3 (1): 1–11. Cybulska, B. (July 2007). “Sexual assault: key issues”. J R Soc Med 100 (7): 321–4. doi:10.1258/jrsm.100.7.321. PMC 1905867. PMID 17606752. [sources cited in Wikipedia entry on “Rape Statistics”
 Rape-related pregnancy: estimates and descriptive characteristics from a national sample of women. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1996;175:320-324
 Yuzpe AA, Smith RP, Rademaker AW. A multicenter clinical investigation employing ethinyl estradiol combined with dl-norgestrel as postcoital contraceptive agent. Fertil Steril 1982;37:508-513
Author’s Note: I have received a number of notifications about my errant use of statistics. The criticisms are justified. In my haste to release the statement I allowed the use of statistics that are annualized for pregnancy and event-driven for rape. I apologize for that confusion.
My point simply was that Congressman Akin was justified in talking about the notion of a woman experiencing some sort of “shut down” because of the rape process. I did not need to confuse the issue with statistics. My reference to research into the correlation between trauma and infertility would have sufficed to make that point.
One more note: Advocates of abortion rights have been especially caustic in their criticism of Akin’s term of “legitimate rape.” That vitriol has spilled over to capture me and what I have written on the topic. While I think “legitimate rape” is an awkward term I believe it reflects a reality that many overlook.
In the work that we do with pregnant women (as young as 12 years old) and in the care we provide for those wishing to keep their child, we encounter the scenario involving a female who is a legal minor and the male who is a legal adult. While there sometimes is only a few years difference in age the sexual encounters, even when consensual, fall under the legal heading of “statutory rape.” When counseling with these individuals they often profess their mutual love,
acknowledge that what they were doing was not legal but object to it being called “rape.” On more than one occasion it was that consensual female who would say, “It is not a legitimate rape.” The emphasis is on consent not on the act. Again, if I were Congressman Akin I would have not used the term “legitimate rape” but he is not alone.
And if there is a sort of fertility shutdown associated with trauma, as some in the infertility arena have suggested, then a “legitimate rape” would be traumatic and cause a potential shutdown, and consensual sex, even if legally classified as “statutory rape,” would not.
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