Science 101

08.20.12

Where Akin Learned His Biology

This morning, David Frum pointed out the logical progression that leads many pro-life advocates to demand a blanket ban on abortion. Over at the the Washington Post's "Wonkblog," Sarah Kliff elucidates the precedent for Akin's less-than scientific argument that rape victims rarely become pregnant:

The argument was most recently – and perhaps most fully – articulated by National Right to Life president John Wilke in a 1999 essay titled “Rape Pregnancies Are Rare.” Wilke made a pretty similar case to Akin: That the “physical trauma” of rape has a way of preventing pregnancy.

“To get and stay pregnant a woman’s body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones,” Wilke wrote. “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.”

The scientific evidence for this proposition is, unsurprisingly, shaky. Freind later backed off his theory about secretions, switching to an argument that rape would instead “delay, disrupt or prohibit ovulation by preventing the release of hormone-triggering factors.”

Kliff also notes a darkly amusing anecdote that would raise the eyebrows of an average high school biology student. Back in the 1980s, Pennsylvania state Rep. Stephen Freind apparently found credence in the idea of a mysterious "secretion" that prevented rapes from causing pregnancies:

His explanation? The trauma of rape causes women to “secrete a certain secretion which has the tendency to kill sperm.” Reproductive health experts immediately denounced those remarks. One told the Philadelphia Inquirer, ”Boy, if I could find out what that [secretion] was, I’d use it as a contraceptive.”