Republican candidate for U.S. Senator from the state of Missouri, Todd Akin, really stuck his foot in his mouth during an interview on the Jaco Report on Fox. After he stated that abortion should be legal to save the life of the mother, the host asked if it should also be legal in the case of rape.
Akin responded: “People always want to try and make that as one of those things, well, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. It seems to me, first of all, that from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it is a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment should be of the rapist and not attacking the child.”
Akin issued an apology but the damage is already done. His statement was poorly worded and garbled. He probably meant to refer to a forcible rape, which is also known as an assault rape as opposed to a date rape. He was probably trying to make this distinction since there have been cases whereby women who become pregnant from consensual intercourse have later claimed rape. His wording failed to properly clarify what he meant.
Even worse was his statement that ” the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.” Again I think he was trying to refer to the physical trauma experienced by a woman when she is raped. Stress and emotional factors can alter a woman’s menstrual cycle. In order to get pregnant, and stay pregnant the body of the woman must produce a complex mix of hormones. This hormone production is under the control of the brain and the part of the brain that controls reproductive hormones (the limbic system) is easily influenced by emotions. An assault rape certainly qualifies as great emotional trauma. Such trauma can radically upset ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even the nurturing of a pregnancy.
Having said all that, women do get pregnant from assault rapes. Approximately 1 in 15 women who are raped will get pregnant from it (see Statistics on Sexual Violence Against Women: A Criminological Study, 1990). Another article by Holmes, Resnick, Kilpatrick, and Best (Rape-related pregnancy: estimates and descriptive characteristics from a national sample of women) from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (1996 Aug;175(2):320-4; discussion 324-5), finds that the national rate of rape pregnancies is 5.0% per rape among victims of reproductive age (aged 12 to 45). This rate is higher because some women who are raped are too old or too young to become pregnant from the rape. Nationally, there were an estimated 32,101 rape pregnancies each year. Only 11.7% of rape victims received immediate medical attention after the assault, and 47.1% received no medical attention related to the rape. 32.2% kept the infant, 50% underwent abortion and 5.9% placed the infant for adoption. 11.8% had a spontaneous abortion.
Thus the statistics show that pregnancy as a result of an assault or forcible rape does occur frequently enough so that pro-life politicians, thinkers and workers must take it seriously. The simple fact is that the baby should not pay the price of his or her life for the crimes of the father. That is the crux of the pro-life position. Abortion as a that ends the life of a baby who is the product of a rape still ends the life of a baby who had nothing to do with the crime still kills a baby. Had Akin put it this way, then he would not have stuck his foot in his mouth the way he did.
There are complications with forcing the woman to be a life-support system for a baby she did not wish to conceive, but the fact still remains that a baby’s life hangs in the balance. In the scheme of things, it seems to me that having the woman bear the brunt of the pregnancy is the lesser of two evils and saving the life of the baby is a greater good. Trying to be cute about it will only get you in trouble and mark you as ignorant and insensitive to women.