Friday 24 August 2012

Todd Akin's not the only one claiming that pregnancy as a result of rape is rare

Earlier this week Republican politician Todd Akin came under fire for claiming that pregnancy occurring as a result of rape is ‘really rare’. In arguing for a ban on abortion without exceptions for pregnancies conceived through rape he stated the following:

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare... If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”

Akin’s claims have rightly been attacked by various pro-choice groups and media outlets in the States for having no basis in scientific fact. Indeed, research from the Journal of American Obstetrics and Gynecology suggests that rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency, something to which many women themselves can attest. So huge was the outcry that even the President released a statement condemning the claim that “legitimate rape” is unlikely to end in pregnancy. President Obama used Akin’s disingenuous comments as an example of why "we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, the majority of whom are men, making healthcare decisions on behalf of women."
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking isn’t limited to one rogue politician in the States spouting misinformation in order to push a ban on abortion. The idea that it is impossible or very unlikely for pregnancy to occur as a result of rape has been spread by a number of anti-abortion groups, including those based in the UK. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) state the following in their ‘Exploring Abortion’ school resource:

“Pregnancy as a result of rape is extremely rare. A woman is only fertile for 3-7 days during her cycle and the extreme physical and psychological trauma of being raped makes it difficult for fertilisation or implantation to occur.”

Earlier this year, SPUC were criticised for giving young people misleading information about pregnancy and rape but we are yet to see the same public outcry Todd Akin’s comments have attracted in the States.

Young people here and abroad deserve to hear factual information about pregnancy and abortion, and we should certainly be concerned when damaging myths like this are allowed into our classrooms. EFC are currently working on a report into abortion education in the UK which will pull together the types of misinformation being given to young people in schools. If you have information you'd like to feed into the project please do contact us and keep an eye out for the launch of the report this autumn.


  1. Thanks for this! Youth Defence in Ireland have been making similar claims that have been publicised over the last couple of days, for having produced publications such as these:

    Choice quotations include: 'the trauma of sexual assault is likely to inhibit ovulation', and 'abortion doesn't make you unpregnant - it makes you the mother of a dead baby'. This is frankly disgusting and shameful language to be using in the context of women made pregnant as a result of rape. 'Sensitive' and 'non-judgemental' indeed towards women indeed!

  2. what is EFC objecting to:

    a) the term legitimate rape
    b) the idea that a woman's body following rape can make is hard for conception to occur
    c) the statment that as a woman is only fertile for a limited time during her cycle, so the chance fo conception is likewise limited, meaning conception following rape occuring outside of that narrow fetile timeframe unlikely.

    It is clear that SPUC make no comment on rape itself, but they do make a comment on the chance of conception following rape.

    SPUC seem to make 2 points: a woman is only fertile for a limited number of days in her cycle, which will likewise limit the time frame in which a woman could conceive. That seems fair enough. What does EFC say?

    The second point relates to this idea that a woman's body can shut down, thus preventing conception.

    You cite a study in the Journal of American Obstetrics and Gynecology, but you haven't given the name of the study, the researchers behind it, and you haven't given a link to the study. Why not? Any chance you could do that please?


  3. We do object to the term 'legitimate rape' as it is a)a term used to discredit women's experience of rape as if it isn't hard enough already to achieve a conviction in a rape case, and b)implies that most rape (which takes place between people who know each other, rather than at knife point behind a bush by a stranger) is not to be taken seriously. It has also been suggested that this term has been introduced by US anti-abortion politicians who are worried that if there is a rape-exception in legislation to ban abortion, that anyone wanting an abortion will falsely claim to have been raped.

    Saying that a woman will not conceive when she has been raped is a way for anti-abortion extremists to try to square a circle. How can they present themselves as compassionate and caring and at the same time force a woman who has been raped to carry a pregnancy to term against her will? QED - say that if you have conceived then you can't have been raped, dah dah.

    There is no medical evidence that a woman's body has a special mechanism to prevent conception following rape. The article we cited from the JAO&G is here

    Of course women do not get pregnant every time they have sex and there are limited days within the month when she is fully fertile (don't forget how long sperm can hang around for alive and kicking though). This is true for all women regardless of whether they have had consenting sex or been raped. The fact remains that a woman who is raped does not benefit from some supernatural protection because her body recognises she has been raped as Akin seems to believe.

    It is also extremely disingenuous to say that a women wouldn't need recourse to the option of abortion following rape because she is only fertile for a limited number of days and probably won't conceive anyway. I assume you (and SPUC) agree that medically there is a chance that she will be pregnant so let's deal with that eventuality and be up front about our beliefs.

    We believe that a woman who is pregnant and does not want to be should have the option of abortion. Akin and some others (maybe you?)believe that the rights of the developing embryo/fetus always trump those of the mother in every circumstance including when she has been raped. Let's not beat about the bush. If you believe women should never ever have the option of the abortion say it, argue it, shout it from the rooftops, but stop hiding behind fake science.

  4. Thanks for the link to SPUC's school resource.

    I'm more concerned by their section on 'Abortion and the physical health of the pregnant woman'. They suggest that abortion may increase the risk of breast cancer, and use a quote from a Times medical columnist as supporting evidence. They fail to mention any of the many studies that have looked at the possibility of a link.

    This is a blatant misrepresentation of what is known about the relationship between abortion and breast cancer rates.

    The largest studies on abortion and breast cancer show that women who have had abortions have a breast cancer risk that is *identical* to women who haven't.

    This is the largest scale study I have been able to find: - Dutch study using a population of 1.5 million women; result: relative risk = 1.00 (i.e. identical risk for those who have and have not had abortions)

    SPUC should not be allowed to peddle this nonsense in schools. Not only is it manipulative, it's also a perfect example of how *not* to use scientific data, as they ignore any results that don't fit with their viewpoint.

    1. ...and when I said Dutch, I meant Danish. Oops. The point still stands.

  5. Well, SPUC has produced this
    As to rape - well, one doesn;t need to refer to a 'special mechanism'. Ask any fertility adviser whether being relaxed (not stressed) during intercourse is likely to hugely increase your chances of getting pregnant. And, of being very stressed is bad for your chances then what about being raped.