Mr. Akin and Legitimate Rape

Rep. Akin (R), who imfamously asserted that pregnancy rarely results from “legitimate” rape

I put my foot in my mouth on a regular basis. So I almost feel sorry for Mr. Todd Akin, the embattled candidate for U.S. Senate.

Mr. Akin went on record saying that legitimate rape rarely results in pregnancy. Women’s bodies have ways of shutting such pregnancies down, he alleged.

I was curious if there were any basis for such a statement. It would be a nice thing to believe, particularly if one had just endured assault with a sexual component (aka rape). Alas, it appears the hope that violent rapes fail to impregnate was based on only a few things:

  • The idea that violent rapes are random, and are therefore less likely to be influenced by the pheromones of an ovulating woman. That would still leave us with the 2-3 days per month women happen to be fertile, or 6-10 percent.
  • The idea that 15% of all pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion (aka miscarriage), and that stress increases the rate of miscarriage.
  • The idea that there is some juice that doesn’t flow under stress. Whatever.

So a less grossly inaccurate statement might have been, “My position on rescinding access to abortion even in cases of rape and incest is heart-wrenching. What I can say is there are factors that may make pregnancy less likely in the case of violent rapes. As for pregnancies that arise as a result of incest, there does not appear to be strong evidence that the children of such intercourse are themselves defective, despite popular myths about inbreeding.

“The violence or inappropriate nature of conception ought not to result in the active abortion of a child. If nature leads to spontaneous abortion, so be it. Leave abortion in the hands of God, not men.”

I’m not saying I would necessarily agree with rescission of the “right” to terminate pregnancy. But at least I could respect an individual who stated their position in such a careful manner.

Anyway, while trolling the web for a scrap of evidence about the female body “shutting down that whole thing,” I came upon sex studies in 2004 and 2011 that show females tend to become lubricated when either subjected to sexual imagery, no matter how distasteful, and when attacked. These studies have the decidedly un-sexy titles of “A sex difference in the specificity of sexual arousal” by Chivers, et al., and “Category-specificity and sexual concordance: The stability of sex differences in sexual arousal patterns” by Suschinsky and Lalumière.

This is a proven effect (juices don’t flow, yeah right). This phenomenon can cause a lot of guilt in a woman who doesn’t understand that it isn’t her fault that her body appears to have been aroused by the violence to which she’s just been subjected. The proposed explanation: females who lubricated in the face of assault were more likely to live. Therefore their children, whether pre-existing, conceived in the attack, or conceived after the fact, were more likely to survive.

Herein lies a sobering realization. Rape has been sufficiently common throughout our evolutionary history that modern humans have almost all been born to the women whose genetic make-up caused them to lubricate. All the other ones died, as did their children. Damning, that.

I’m irritated that Mr. Akin is staying in the race. But I don’t even live in Missouri, the state that will either elect him anyway or show him that this gaffe was too much for them to bear. If Mr. Akin hasn’t listened to anyone in his party or the PACs and media who want Akin out of the race, he surely won’t care what a lonely out of state blogger thinks.

If I were Mr. Akin, and if I held his position, and if I now had to apologize, I would say:

“This sad experience has led me to understand that rape results in all too many pregnancies. My earlier statements were wrong. Despite what I had been led to believe, women who have been attacked don’t have a physiological response that shuts down the processes associated with conception.

“How can it be that so few women’s bodies fail to shut down, fail to reject the pregnancy arising from attack? The studies I have now read propose that female arousal even in the face of attack allowed women to survive. The women who were raped and had the ability to shut down appear to have died as a result of attack.

“That means almost all of us, then, are the descendants of the women who were rape and survived. Our ancestors allowed the children to be born. We are descendants of those children. I am only asking that we, too, allow the children to be born.”

Alas, I am not virulently pro-life. I am an engineer, and I like to make decisions based on data. I would request tracking and follow-up for all women undergoing medical abortion (versus miscarriage or spontaneous abortion). What is the rate of disease, economic prosperity, persisting satisfaction with their decision to abort. I might also agitate to have maternal deaths following medical abortion categorized as deaths linked to abortion. I understand deaths resulting from complications arising from abortion are currently categorized as deaths associated with pregnancy.

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