Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Todd Akin May Be A Neanderthal, But He's Not the Only One

Todd Akin, aka the "legitimate rape" guy, has sincerely and whole-heartedly apologized for his remarks, saying that "rape is never legitimate." I'm glad we got that out of the way, because what he didn't say was just as important: he didn't back off of his claim that pregnancy is less likely when a woman is raped. Akin said he knows ""that people do become pregnant from rape," and that he didn't mean to imply that it didn't happen -- but didn't specifically address whether pregnancy was less frequent in cases of rape.

The Republican party is in damage-control mode, trying to portray Akin's words as an isolated incident. However, it is clear that this myth of women magically avoiding pregnancy when raped has been around the block a few times, despite the lack of scientific evidence. As the New York Times mentions (though I noted this was in a blog post, not a news article), a number of prominent Republicans have made similar claims going back to 1988:

The Buzzfeed blogger who writes as Southpaw traced the idea back another decade, finding a 1988 report from the Philadelphia Daily News on a Republican state legislator in Pennsylvania, Stephen Freind, who claimed that the chances of a woman getting pregnant from rape were, “one in millions and millions and millions.” Mr. Freind gave a version of the same explanation then that Mr. Akin relied on: the trauma of rape, he claimed, causes women to “secrete a certain secretion” that kills sperm. When the newspaper asked a professor of obstetrics and gynecology for a response, he said simply: “There’s no basis for that. That’s nonsense.”
 Where does this idea come from, in a medical and legal sense? Yes, you guessed it, it comes from medieval England.

“The legal position that pregnancy disproved a claim of rape appears to have been instituted in the U.K. sometime in the 13th century,” the medical historian Vanessa Heggie wrote in a blog post for The Guardian on Monday. She explained that one of Britain’s earliest legal texts, written in about 1290, included a clause based on this bit of folk wisdom: “If, however, the woman should have conceived at the time alleged in the appeal, it abates, for without a woman’s consent she could not conceive.”
 Apparently, the folk wisdom implies that a woman must "enjoy" the sex to get pregnant. If she got pregnant, therefore she must have enjoyed it! Ahh, the twisted logic - logic that potential lawmakers share. I hope the voters of Missouri reject this nonsense.

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