By now you surely know about Missouri Rep. (and US Senate candidate) Todd Akin’s comments to a local news station about “legitimate rape” and how women have a magic pregnancy shutdown switch when in a rape situation. (I believe it activates much like the Wonder Twins, you have to yell out “form a sperm filter!”) Akin has since said that he “misspoke”. But he actually uttered a long-standing belief on the part of the anti-choice movement, simply taking it a bit further and in a less friendly setting than is typical.
I’ve been aware of this false premise from anti-choicers that pregnancies from rape are rare for many years. And not just because back in 2011, the Republican House tried to redefine the exception for federal funds for abortion as only counting in the case of “forcible rape.” No, this is actually one of those tenets of the anti-choice movement that you would only know if you paid attention to their fringe publications.
Here’s one such publication, from anti-choice doctor John Willke at the site “Christian Life Resources”:
Finally, factor in what is certainly one of the most important reasons why a rape victim rarely gets pregnant, and that’s physical trauma. Every woman is aware that stress and emotional factors can alter her menstrual cycle. To get and stay pregnant a woman’s body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones. Hormone production is controlled by a part of the brain that is easily influenced by emotions. There’s no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape. This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy.
Trauma from the rape may bring into play some natural defence mechanisms that reduce the likelihood of pregnancy, such as hormonal change and spasms of the fallopian tubes which inhibit ovulation or fertilisation.
This site has some more plausible explanations, like the fact that the chances of conception in any sexual intercourse, regardless of consent, are fairly low. This of course has nothing to do with rape victims secreting a special spermaticide.
Kate Sheppard and Garance Franke-Ruta have more examples, tracing back all the way to the 1980s. Franke-Ruta finds several state Representatives who have made this claim, but not a member of Congress, and certainly not one running for US Senate (his opponent, incumbent Claire McCaskill, has condemned the remarks).
This really shows the persistence of the bubble around which the far right has wrapped themselves. This is a story they tell themselves so they can absolve themselves of favoring no exceptions to abortion for rape, that the good Lord intelligently designed women to activate a pregnancy blocker in a time of trauma. To any sentient being, to anyone that’s ever spoken to a rape victim, it sounds ridiculous. But inside that bubble, it’s a great help, because it allows them to avoid difficult questions.
The problem for Akin and the rest is that none of this is true. 32,101 pregnancies result from rape every year, according to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. But that won’t stop this zombie lie from perpetuating in anti-choice circles. Perhaps this embarrassment will put a lid on it.
UPDATE: Akin also favors banning the morning-after pill, and co-sponsored a “personhood bill” (along with Paul Ryan) that would ban in vitro fertilization, among other things. The Romney-Ryan ticket tepidly distanced themselves from Akin’s remarks.
UPDATE II: You could trace this back all the way to Samuel Farr’s 1785 treatise on medicine. So the last time this was a mainstream belief was the 18th century.