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Rep. Todd Akin needs to take a course in female biology

Rep. Todd Akin claimed on Sunday that the female body has a natural defense against pregnancy in cases of rape.

As soon as I read the comments that Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) made Sunday about how “legitimate” rapes don’t result in pregnancy, my first thoughts were 1) what an insensitive ignoramus, and 2) it’s long past time that we require our politicians to take — and pass — a course in female biology.  After all, if they’re going to be enacting laws that affect women’s health and bodies, they should at least understand how the female body works.

It’s clear that right now many of them simply don’t have a clue.

Akin showed his ignorance while defending his no-exceptions stance on abortion during an interview on a local Missouri television station Sunday morning. “It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape is] really rare,” he told KTVI-TV. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

“But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something,” he added. “I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”

Akin’s ridiculous idea that women have some kind of natural defense that somehow fights off conception during a “legitimate” rape isn’t new to a particular wing of the political spectrum, as Garance Franke-Rute, a senior editor at the Atlantic, pointed out on Sunday afternoon:

Arguments like his have cropped up again and again on the right over the past quarter century and the idea that trauma is a form of birth control continues to be promulgated by anti-abortion forces that seek to outlaw all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest. The push for a no-exceptions anti-abortion policy has for decades gone hand in hand with efforts to downplay the frequency with which rape- or incest-related pregnancies occur, and even to deny that they happen, at all. In other words, it’s not just Akin singing this tune.

Franke-Rute then quotes from a 1999 article written by Dr. John C. Willke, a past-president of the National Right to Life Committee and the current president of the ban-all-abortions Life Issues Institutes (and who may be one of those unnamed doctors that Akin referred to in his TV comments):

When pro-lifers speak of rape pregnancies, we should commonly use the phrase “forcible rape” or “assault rape,” for that specifies what we’re talking about. Rape can also be statutory. Depending upon your state law, statutory rape can be consensual, but we’re not addressing that here …. Assault rape pregnancies are extremely rare.

…. 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. So what further percentage reduction in pregnancy will this cause? No one knows, but this factor certainly cuts this last figure by at least 50 percent and probably more.

‘Significant frequency’

Of course, Willke offers no scientific evidence to support this biologically bogus theory about rape, hormones and the menstrual cycle. And it is bogus. Although it’s difficult to truly know how many pregnancies result from rape because rapes are so underreported, a team of University of South Carolina researchers took a stab at it in 1996. They estimated that about 32,000 pregnancies resulted from rape each year in the United States.

“Rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency,” the researchers concluded. “It is a cause of many unwanted pregnancies and is closely linked with family and domestic violence. As we address the epidemic of unintended pregnancies in the United States, greater attention and effort should be aimed at preventing and identifying unwanted pregnancies that result from sexual victimization.”

A 2004 survey by the Guttmacher Institute of a representative sample of women who had had abortions found that 1 percent of the women indicated that they had been victims of rape, and slightly less than half a percent said they became pregnant as a result of incest. Those percentages had not changed from a similar survey taken 17 years earlier, in 1987. At the time of the 2004 survey, an estimated 1.3 million women were undergoing abortions each year in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

‘I misspoke”

Akin’s remarks sparked an Internet storm on Sunday, and soon even Republican activists and pundits were calling for him to withdraw from his current Senate race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Within hours, Akin issued a statement in which he said he had “misspoke” in the KTVI-TV interview and that his “off-the-cuff remarks” did not “reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.”

Later, he added more clarification via Twitter: “To be clear, all of us understand that rape can result in pregnancy & I have great empathy for all victims. I regret misspeaking.”

Maybe somebody gave Atkin a biology lesson between his morning TV interview and his afternoon tweet. We can only hope.

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Steve Roth on 08/20/2012 - 09:45 am.

    To Be Clear

    Akin did NOT “misspeak” and the remarks weren’t “off the cuff.”

    Its 2012 for goodness sake, and he’s not the first conservative to completely say something unbelievably asinine – they actually believe this stuff.

    Finally, Missouri definitely needs to make sure sex ed. is taught in all schools. Akin proves that! And not this abstinence only curriculum that’s been a disaster everywhere.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/20/2012 - 09:53 am.

    Adding insult to injury

    Actually knowing things doesn’t appear to be part of the right wing game plan. It’s much easier, and more ideologically-comfortable, to simply make things up as you go.

    Mr. Akin, as part of his “misspoke” wriggling, insisted that “women would have no greater advocate” than he, should be elected to the Senate. Maybe in his dreams…

  3. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 08/20/2012 - 09:54 am.

    Pregnancy from rape is very rare…

    Absurd.

    See Sarah Kliff’s piece in today’s Washington Post:

    Study: Rape victims have higher pregnancy rates than other women

    http://wapo.st/PytzSs

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/20/2012 - 09:59 am.

    Faith based

    biology,
    otherwise known as Republican politics.
    More than half of Amuricans don’t accept evolution, for Heaven’s sake!

  5. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 08/20/2012 - 10:05 am.

    No one should be surprised

    By the comments of these right wing candidates.

  6. Submitted by Allyson Hayward on 08/20/2012 - 10:22 am.

    Missouri politics

    Akin is challenging Clare McCaskill, a moderate democrat and well known in Missouri for her groundbreaking work on domestic violence law. I worked with her in the 80s. He’s willfully ignorant and he knows this type of stuff plays very well with his base who still see women as property.

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/20/2012 - 10:29 am.

    Leave the rape material to the experts.

    Akin’s ad libbing proves that when it comes to uncomfortable topics, it’s best to stick to a written script lest one step in it.

    Al Franken got away with rape jokes because he *wrote* the script…he’s no amature. Maybe he’ll help Biden polish his slavery material…..

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/22/2012 - 10:09 am.

      This wasn’t ad lib

      The view that rape victims of any degree of “legitimacy” are less likely to become pregnant is widely hed in the anti-choice movement. No, not just a few fringe people, unless you want to call the former president of the National Right to Life Committee one of the “fringe.” One candidate for Pressident in 2008 by name of Mitt Romney was “proud to have the support of a man who has meant so much to the pro-life movement in our country.”

      Rep. Akin’s stupidity is just mainstream Republicanism.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/22/2012 - 02:36 pm.

        RB are you suggesting that Al Franken’s material is ad libbed?

        As I understood it, Al was writing his rape jokes for others to tell. If you have other information, I’d be happy to receive it.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/23/2012 - 09:43 am.

          Get over it

          If you read my post, you would see that I was commenting about Rep. Akin. I noted that, contrary to what you said, he was not “ad libbing.” Senator Franken has nothing to do with this.

          There is more to life than trying to irritate liberals with pointless snark. CHeck into it sometime.

  8. Submitted by David Frenkel on 08/20/2012 - 10:43 am.

    Congress

    There is no intelligence test to be a Congressman. I have seen and heard of plenty of Congressional hearings on pretty basic science and technology where the Congressman ask pretty basic questions most high school students would know. At a recent meeting between freshman Congressmen and Pentagon officials one Congressman asked why the US needs a standing military.

  9. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 08/20/2012 - 10:47 am.

    “stick to a written script” Mr. Swift?

    It would be best to do a little investigation into matters such as female biology – as suggested by this excellent post – instead of reading a script that Rep. Akin would not understand anyway. Much of the Republican right wing is anti-science – including Paul Ryan. Simple facts about evolution, climate science, and female biology are causally brushed aside by people like Ryan.

  10. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 08/20/2012 - 10:57 am.

    And he’s a member of the House Science and Technology Committee

    Well everyone knows that being a rape victim in this country is so damn much fun that people are reporting it just to share in that enjoyment . After all, what’s more fun than being physically forced to do something against your will, followed by a complete, probing medical examination, hours spent talking with county attorneys and the possibility of having to testify in open court, with spectators everywhere, about being emotionally subjugated and physically abused. And all with the possibility of the perp walking free and stalking you for life.

    Let’s hope the only real legitimate candidate in that race prevails.

  11. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 08/20/2012 - 12:17 pm.

    This story

    Reveals more and more about right wing republicans like Ryan and Akin – they view women as chattel.

  12. Submitted by Cecil North on 08/20/2012 - 12:27 pm.

    So, pregnancy is prima facie evidence that a rape was not “legitimate”? Great news for the criminal defense bar! Added to “she was asking for it,” “she was dressed like a tramp,” and “she only said ‘no’ four times” we need never convict another rapist.

  13. Submitted by Susan McNerney on 08/20/2012 - 12:34 pm.

    Given the overwheling amount of viking dna

    in the current british and irish populations (see studies in Current Biology, among others) I’d say this myth has been debunked since, well, mythical times.

  14. Submitted by Bruce Bednarek on 08/20/2012 - 02:16 pm.

    Misspoke, mis-understood, not what I meant or whatever

    Missouri has Todd Akin, Minnesota has Michele Bachman, hmmm – Minnesota starts with an “M”, Missouri also starts with an “M”, with that being said, what are the similarities that can be found between Akin and Bachman????

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