Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Debunking Todd Akin on Rape and Pregnancy

Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) opined that women don’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape” because the female body has mysterious ways of shutting down rape-induced pregnancies. This claim is so far-fetched that most people assumed it was Akin’s pet theory, but it turns out other anti-choicers believe it too. It’s a surprisingly common myth used to explain why rape exceptions to abortion laws are unnecessary: If “legitimate rapes” don’t cause pregnancies, then a woman who says she was impregnanted by rape must be lying. The leading exponent of this view, Dr. John Willke, endorsed Mitt Romney in 2007.

Pam Belluck of the New York Times applies her science journalism chops to sort fact from fiction on rape and reproduction:

There are no words for this — it is just nuts,” said Dr. Michael Greene, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. David Grimes, a clinical professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina, said, that “to suggest that there’s some biological reason why women couldn’t get pregnant during a rape is absurd.”

Laura Helmuth, the science editor for Slate, points out that the term “legitimate rape” is coded language used to separate supposedly deserving rape victims from other victims of sexual violence. She adds that Akin’s mythmaking betrays a stunning rejection of science in the service of misogynist ideology:

The sexism is outrageous, but it’s the stupidity that really burns. It takes a lot of work for a member of the House science committee to cultivate an ignorance of science as profound as Todd Akin’s. It’s not accidental and it’s not incidental to his worldview—his belief system requires a rejection of science.

The thing about science, as Neil DeGrasse-Tyson says, is that it’s true whether you believe it or not. And the truth is that biology does not give a goddamn how sperm meets egg, whether it’s within the bounds of a sanctified marriage, in a test tube, or after a rape.

Amazingly, Akin sits on the House science committee.

[Photo credit: Todd Akin, by DonkeyHote, Creative Commons.]