Rape Pregnancies Not Rare, Ob-Gyn Says

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), a candidate for the U.S. Senate, faces a backlash within his own party for his recent comment that pregnancies rarely occur as the result of a "legitimate rape." While the comment sounded odd, not to mention offensive, to many, it is based upon an idea that has floated around in some pro-life circles for decades. In a Tuesday interview with The Christian Post, Dr. Gene Rudd, an obstetrician-gynecologist who is also senior vice president of Christian Medical & Dental Associations, said there is no evidence that pregnancies are rare among rape victims.

"I don't know where [Akins is] coming from, but what he said, there's no basis for it," Rudd explained.

In an interview aired on Sunday, Akin said, "First of all, from what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

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Akin apologized for the remarks in a campaign ad released Tuesday explaining that he "said the wrong words in the wrong way."

"Fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy," Akin added.

In a Monday radio broadcast, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, a politically conservative Christian advocacy organization, argued that Akin's original comment was "absolutely right."

In cases of "forcible rape," Fischer said, "there's a very delicate and complex mix of hormones that take place -- that are released -- in a woman's body, and if that gets interfered with, it may make it impossible for her or difficult in that particular circumstance to conceive a child."

But Rudd is saying, "Show me the data." He has looked for data regarding rape pregnancies and only found studies supporting the opposite conclusion -- women who are raped are not less likely to get pregnant.

In light of Akin's comments, Garance Franke-Ruta writing for The Atlantic and Sarah Posner writing for Religion Dispatches, uncovered similar comments made by pro-lifers in the past.

Akin is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), an evangelical Protestant denomination, and holds an M.Div. degree from a PCA seminary. In its position statement on abortion, Posner found that the PCA cites a report by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church arguing that there are "extremely few" pregnancies that result from rape.

One possible source of that belief appears to be an article written by John C. Willke, M.D., current president of Life Issues Institute and former president of the U.S. National Right to Life Committee.

Willke argues that rape victims rarely get pregnant because of the "physical trauma" that occurs.

"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," Willke wrote.

Willke concludes that a woman's chances of getting pregnant after a rape are reduced by "at least 50 percent and probably more" due to the physical trauma.

When asked about Willke's article, Rudd said it was "statistical speculation; not science, not evidence to draw a conclusion."

The article is currently available on the Christian Life Resources website. The Christian Post asked Christian Life Resources if it stood by the article and was told that the article is there "for informational purposes only."

Akin never explained what he was thinking when he used the peculiar phrase "legitimate rape." Willke's article suggests one possibility.

Willke suggests using the phrase "forcible rape" or "assault rape" to draw a distinction between consensual statutory rape (sex with a minor is considered rape regardless of whether or not it is consensual) and a rape from an assault. The emotional trauma that Willke talks about would not occur if the rape is consensual.

Another possibility is that Akin was drawing a distinction between types of forced sexual acts. Indeed, the FBI only recently broadened its definition of rape to include other types of sex acts.

Willke was contacted for an interview but was not available at the time of publication.

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