On Todd Akin

We thought Paul Ryan would be our biggest concern as voting women in this election. We were wrong. Todd Akin just recently used the term “legitimate rape” when talking about, you know, rape, which prompted President Obama to reiterate that rape is rape. Sadly, not everyone is of this opinion – and it seems that the more the GOP goes on, the less territory they are willing to concede to women, whatever their capacity. Is it 1903? Rarely have rich white men tried to take over the body of women since the good old days of Salem, MA in 1659 (look it up). Our new contributor Alexandra Creswick looks at the facts of “rape rape”, pregnancy, and what Republican men ought to know by now

Let’s just get the facts out of the way.  A comprehensive 1996 study from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology sampled over 4,000 women and found that the rape-related pregnancy rate was 5.0% (which included rapes with condoms):

RESULTS: The national rape-related pregnancy rate is 5.0% per rape among victims of reproductive age (aged 12 to 45); among adult women an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year. Among 34 cases of rape-related pregnancy, the majority occurred among adolescents and resulted from assault by a known, often related perpetrator. Only 11.7% of these victims received immediate medical attention after the assault, and 47.1% received no medical attention related to the rape. A total 32.4% of these victims did not discover they were pregnant until they had already entered the second trimester; 32.2% opted to keep the infant whereas 50% underwent abortion and 5.9% placed the infant for adoption; an additional 11.8% had spontaneous abortion.

CONCLUSIONS: Rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency. 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.

So, conclusively and irrefutably, pregnancies happen from rape.  About 35 pregnancies a day, in fact.  There is no special mechanism by which the body shuts down or stops pregnancy from happening.  Why this is even a debate—or why enough people believe this to the point where multiple public officials feels that they can say it and not get laughed out of office—boggles the mind.  So how, then, did we arrive at this place?

Todd Akin, as with all things, does not exist in a void.  In fact, he exists in a very well-developed, cynical and privileged mode of thought that has a lot of precedence and support:

1988: Rep. Stephen Freind, R-Delaware County, said the traumatic experience of rape causes a woman to “secrete a certain secretion” that tends to kill sperm.

1995: Republican Rep. Henry Aldridge said, “The facts show that people who are raped — who are truly raped — the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant. Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever.”

1999: “Finally, factor in what is 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.” –John C Willke, former president of the National Right to Life Committee

2003: “Concern for rape victims is a red herring, because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.” – Federal Judge Leon Holmes

2012: “First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Akin said that even in the worst-case scenario — when the supposed natural protections against unwanted pregnancy fail — abortion should still not be a legal option for the rape victim.

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

Todd Akin

All of these statements ignore the experiences and claims of the victimized and instead reinforce the supremacy and power of the men who know what rape really is.  Who know best how a person should react to rape, pregnancy, and the unfortunate confluence of the two.

Consider the implications of what Akin, et al, have taken upon themselves to decree:

  • That there are “legitimate” rapes, which insinuates that there are “illegitimate rapes.”  (You know, the ones where you’re asking for it because that shirt is short and that top is low; where you drank too much and should know better; where you’re married and that’s part of your spousal duties; where continuing consent is not a thing.  Not to mention all those bitches lying and just out to destroy the menz.)
  • That pregnancy from rape is rare-verging-on-nonexistent.
  • That medical science supports their beliefs.
  • That they know the experiences of and speak for every raped person.
  • That they have the right to determine what happens to pregnant bodies.

Every single one of these quotes is concerned with “legitimizing” rape.  Sorry, rape-rape.  Because if it’s not a ‘legitimate’ (or ‘true,’ or traumatic enough) rape, then the woman was clearly asking for it in some way.  She wanted it, otherwise she wouldn’t be pregnant.

This is rape apologia.  This is rape culture.  This is a way to blame the victim.  This is also a way to take away the victim’s bodily autonomy, again, by denying her access to abortion, because the anti-choice lobbyists have managed to convince most of us that abortion is controversial, but rape/incest is the constant ethical thorn in their side.

The anti-abortion movement is one predicated upon the punishment and shaming of women for being sexual beings.  Had sex and got pregnant?  Bear the consequences of your actions!  Take responsibility.  Because children are ‘consequences’ and somehow, abortion isn’t taking responsibility.  It’s all well and good to throw these words at a woman who had sex and got pregnant.  It’s her fault, after all.  But those arguments don’t hold water when  it’s rape, so you’re stuck in a moral quandary where some abortion slips through the cracks.

Via a follow-up statement released by Akin’s camp:

But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action. I also recognize that there are those who, like my opponent, support abortion and I understand I may not have their support in this election.

The people* who are pregnant are never ‘innocent victims,’ since they weren’t legitimately raped.  They are not worth saving.  They are not worth listening to when they say, “I cannot be pregnant with my rapist’s child.”  Because a bunch of politicians believe they know what’s best, the cycle of abuse continues.   And on the other side of that, you’re also devaluing the people who do decide that they will carry a child to term.  Because “yes” means nothing without the ability to say “no.”

In an anti-choice world where the only exception for getting an abortion is life threatening complications or pregnancy by rape, rape becomes the last bastion for the unwanted pregnancy.  Ergo, there needs to be a way to keep the sluts from circumventing the system.  So victims who are “legitimately” raped—excuse me, per Mr. Akin’s clarification, forcibly raped—never get pregnant.  Therefore the question of abortion in relation to rape is never an issue.  Todd Akin co-sponsored a bill with Mitt Romney’s VP candidate, Paul Ryan, which introduced the idea of “forcible rape.”

Under H.R. 3, the only victims of “forcible rape” would qualify for federally funded abortions. Victims of statutory rape—say, a 13-year-old girl impregnated by a 30-year-old man—would be on their own. So would victims of incest if they’re over 18. And while “forcible rape” isn’t defined in the criminal code, the addition of the adjective seems certain to exclude acts of rape that don’t involve overt violence—say, cases where a woman is drugged or has a limited mental capacity. “It’s basically putting more restrictions on what was defined historically as rape,” says Keenan.

Beyond that, says Keenan, the bill would give states the option of refusing Medicaid coverage for all abortions, even in the most brutal of rape cases, or when a medical complication leaves a woman’s life at risk.

Abortion can continue to be vilified and completely outlawed in service to some politician’s sanctimonious morality—ignoring, of course, that abortions won’t stop, only safe abortions, and that many people will die as a result.  We have been there before.  Between 5,000 and 10,000 women a year died from unsafe abortions before 1973.  That number will not change if abortion is outlawed again.  But the “pro-life” movement doesn’t care about that.

Because deep down and it’s most fundamental level is the truth that you cannot protect “all life” by making abortion illegal and inaccessible.  In many instances, that is the exact opposite of what you’re doing.  Outlawing abortion leads to avoidable death.  By making abortion illegal and inaccessible, you are valuing a fetus over a pregnant person.  You are telling the pregnant person that they do not matter as much as the rapidly dividing cells within them.  That the potential for life supersedes one who is already indisputably alive, and able to articulate their wants and needs.

“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.”

I call bullshit on your empathy, Mr. Akin.  Anyone who has a shred of empathy for women who are raped could not actively campaign for a world where the violation of their body is codified into law.  Empathy is not “legitimizing” certain forms of rape.  And in the braoder sense, empathy is not creating a world in which in which parents must watch their unviable fetus die.  Where they have to wait for their government to decide if they can have life-saving treatment or not.  Where hospitals are allowed to let women come to grievous bodily harm because of religious affiliations.

Todd Akin didn’t misspeak.  He told us exactly what he thinks.

*It’s important to take a moment to note that ciswomen are not the only people who get pregnant, nor the only people who need easy, affordable access to reproductive healthcare—like abortion and birth control.


Alex Creswick is a pop culture junkie who spends her time reading, writing, and making movies in Los Angeles. She has spent most of her life exploring the intersection of representations in media and social justice, and is delighted to guest blog on OISC.


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