Todd Akin: Paul Ryan's Buddy

08.20.12

"Legitimate Rape": An Old Right-Wing Trope

Todd Akin, the GOP Senate candidate in Missouri, did not come up with this idea of "legitimate rape" on his own. As Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic notes, it's been floating around in the mite-infested right-wing air since the 1980s. She cites some mentions going back as far as 1980 and then quotes from a 1999 paper by a right-wing physician who wrote:

 What 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.

Wow. If you've been reading about this since yesterday, you've probably come across the figure of 32,000 pregnancies per year in the United States that result from rape. That figure is from this 1996 paper, by Holmes, et al., as they say in the academy, which was based on a three-year longitudinal survey.

I have to say that number astonished and sickened me. Are you telling me that 88 women a day, every day, are impregnated via rape? Jesus Mary and Joseph. This study found that the incidence of impregnation was around 5 percent. I read elsewhere that 1,870 women are raped every day in the land of the free. Do the math. The numbers check out. Holy crap. That's like war. We're living amidst a war. And what does Akin propose to do about it--and, for that matter, Paul Ryan?

My Beast colleague Michelle Goldberg was on this case in January 2011, writing about HR 3, the bill that sought to make a distinction between "forcible rape" and "statutory rape" for the purposes of providing redress to victims of the former but not the latter. Two of the original cosponsors? Akin and Ryan.

Will this remark put Ryan on the spot? It damn well better. How many of those 1,870 women raped every day does he think weren't really raped?