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abortion, Contraception, evidence based medicine, sexual assault, war on women

Did Todd Akin get his misinformation on rape and pregnancy from Physicians for Life?

By now everyone knows that Congressman Todd Akin (Missouri’s 2nd District) thinks some rapes are legitimate and some are, well, apparently not legitimate. We also know that “what he understands from doctors” is that pregnancy from legitimate rape is “really rare” because women can block unwanted pregnancies through a stress response (“shut the whole thing down,” is the actual quote). But just who are these physicians feeding him this misinformation?

My guess is The Physicians for Life. So, I took a little gander at their website

Here is a direct quote from the Physicians for Life, “Assault rape pregnancies are extremely rare.” The number they come up with is 500 “assault rape” pregnancies/year (yes, Physicians for Life apparently feel the need to qualify only some rapes as “assault,” which they use interchangeably with “forced rape”).

Screen shot from Physicians for Life website, Aug. 20, 2012

In addition, Physicians for Life also believe that: “…certainly one of the most important reasons why a rape victim rarely gets pregnant, and that’s psychic 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, and implantation.”

The Physicians for Life site quotes 3 sources, only one is original research. The one article was authored by Goth and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 1977 (yes, 1977) and in NO WAY SUPPORTS THE NOTION THAT RAPES ARE RARE OR THAT THE STRESS RESPONSE LOWERS THE PREGNANCY RATE. It is an article about sexual dysfunction among rapists.Put another way, the Physicians for Life have not provided a single published article to support their claims. Interestingly, Physicians for Life also promote the long disproven claim that abortion causes breast cancer.

There are obvious difficulties in studying rape outcomes as “only 16 to 38% of rape victims report the rape to law enforcement, and only 17 to 43% present for medical evaluation after rape; one-third of victims of rape never report the assault to their primary care doctor.” (NEJM 2011). However, a scientific estimate (i.e. from research) is between 25,000 and 32,000 pregnancies from rape a year in the United States (American Journal Obstetrics and Gynecology 1996 and American Journal of Preventative Medicine 2000).

Just to put those numbers into perspective, about 22,000 women a year in the United States develop ovarian cancer. No one thinks that’s rare. About 32,000 American women get melanoma every year (American Cancer Society, 2012). No one thinks that’s rare either.

According to the current medical evidence, pregnancy resulting from rape is not rare. There is also no research to back up the asinine belief that rape induced “psychic trauma” prevents pregnancy.

The Physicians for Life website seems to be a set of crib notes for Congressman Akin (and many others) on all things pertaining to the female reproductive system, something that is not even the business of a politician. To have physicians promote evidence-baseless beliefs that are lapped up and then trotted out to promote the agenda of a politician (one who sits on the House Committee of Science, Space, and Technology, no less) is certainly not my idea of a timeless principle.

It would be laughable if it were not all so malignant.

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Discussion

27 thoughts on “Did Todd Akin get his misinformation on rape and pregnancy from Physicians for Life?

  1. Thanks for the leg work, I am sharing this on Facebook.

    Posted by Ken | August 20, 2012, 4:51 am
    • You’re welcome. I was just aghast at what I read…

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | August 20, 2012, 5:44 am
    • I never heard of Todd Akin before this morning’s news. I don’t know anything about him, but the response his comments are getting miss the point.
      He stated in essence that “forcible rape” (and you know that is what he meant) usually does not result in pregnancy which is in fact a statistically accurate statement. He went on to say he thought rapists should be punished but not the baby. Scientifically speaking the fetus is a human being and legally he/she is innocent of all crimes. If one accepts the premise that the fetus is a innocent human being, then Mr Akin made a completely valid declaration that the baby should not be punished or killed. How about we execute rapists? Just something to think about. His statement that womens’ bodies tend to not allow pregnancy form rape is scientifically unsupported but it is not the first time anyone has thought or expressed the idea. It really is a complete side comment/issue.

      Posted by Michael Oleary | August 20, 2012, 2:44 pm
      • This makes no sense. All rape is forcible rape. Period. Every single one is traumatic! Women DO become pregnant via rape. His comments do not support ANYTHING, statistically or scientifically. I don’t care who “expresses the idea” or how often, it is still bogus. Tell ya what, I’ll express the idea that the world is flat and rally a bunch of crackpots to express it too, and then we’ll just run with that mmm’k? Makes just as much sense.

        I cannot imagine what is going to happen if their personhood bill is passed. Think of what it will do to the practice of IVF. What are they going to do with all those little frozen ‘people’ that the parents choose not to implant? You can’t keep people frozen forever!

        I’m sorry but this just makes me so, so sick. Thank you Jen for doing your part to speak to reason and logic.

        Posted by Crystal | August 21, 2012, 7:46 am
      • How is it “a complete side issue” that someone who is completely ignorant and misinformed about women’s bodies and pregnancy is trying to make legislation about them? Is elementary scientific literacy really so much to ask of a national legislator?

        No, willful ignorance and getting one’s medical information from made-up sources is not a “side issue” at all, regardless of one’s feelings about abortion.

        Posted by Erica | August 21, 2012, 8:36 am
      • Yeah, no. Rape is forcible by definition. Even date rape. I should not be forced to be an incubator if I am impregnated against my will. Maybe you need a lesson on conception. It occurs whe. An egg is released from the ovaries, travels to the fallopian tubes. Meets up with sperm. Soon you have a zygote. There is nothing psychic about it. If there were, unplanned pregnancies would become extremely rare.

        Posted by Rachael Turner | August 22, 2012, 6:40 pm
    • A cause to boot this guy has spread across Facebook.

      http://www.youstand.com/cause/82112/remove-todd-akin-from-the-house-science-committee

      Posted by Jennifer | August 21, 2012, 11:04 am
    • I almost wish you hadn’t found this. It kind of gives him cover. He can say he was misinformed by real doctors, or even that the question is not so clearly settled as his critics would like us all to think. I can hear his apologists already:

      So, Akin got his data from _real doctors_ after all, eh? And are you saying emotional trauma _doesn’t_ affect menstruation and ovulation? Looks like someone owes Congressman Akin a big apology.

      And abortion _does_ cause breast cancer, or are you saying you only accept the research that proves it causes what you want it to cause (like 500 pregnancies at most) but not the research that proves it causes what you _don’t_ want it to cause (like the deaths of thousands of women who get cancer every year, or don’t you believe they exist, either)?

      Posted by Stevens Miller | August 22, 2012, 9:29 am
  2. Argh. Besides the glaring omission that pregnancy only occurs because ovulation has already happened… From actual doctors? Can women who’ve been raped turn back time? If they could, it wouldn’t be ovulation they’d be stopping.

    So aside from that, his message is really clear – “We are not against abortion for rape, but rape cannot lead to pregnancy, so if you are pregnant it wasn’t rape, you wanted it, and pregnancy is your punishment”.

    As the wingnut definition of ‘rape’ is “modestly dressed Christian virgin, dragged into an alley by a masked man, and violated at gunpoint” there are hardly ever any “real” rapes anyway.

    Said it before, I’ll say it again, the USA terrifies me. People in power are apparently devoid of education, morals, and a drive to make their country better, and they’re poisoned by religion.

    There’s no social contract, no safety net, no sense of basic rights like health or education. Free to pollute the air with hate speech, free to collect firearms like Pokemon, free to discriminate against marginalised people on almost any grounds, free to have 40 pet tigers and lions… The list is endless when it comes to ‘wants’, but ‘needs’ are completely neglected.

    Scary.

    Posted by boostick | August 20, 2012, 6:37 am
  3. I am on your side. This Akin quote sounds medieval.

    That said, I wonder what you meant about the female reproductive system not being the business of a politician. The way to progress is open, fact based dialogue. Any peer-reviewed studies, regardless of anyone’s agenda, are the only way to guide us.

    I hope, as a physician, objectivity and fact are your only goals. And that all doctors would aggressively pursue these goals without bias.

    Again, I don’t like Akin. And I’m pro-choice.

    Posted by Chris | August 20, 2012, 9:04 am
    • Medical care is between a woman and her health care provider. It is the same for men.

      Politicians should have no say in the practice of medicine.

      The US is demonstrating quite clearly why it is a dangerous practice as lies become doublespeak for medical standards. Vaginal ultrasounds do not reduce abortion, doctors in South Dakota must lie to women about a false impact of abortion on mental health.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | August 20, 2012, 9:41 am
      • OK, I’m just a hopelessly naive non-American, but how is that even legal? What’s had to happen to get your adopted country to a place where not only are doctors allowed to lie to women, but they can be compelled by force of law to do so?

        There are so many wonderful places in the US, and amazing people, but any country that uses The Handmaid’s Tale as a ‘How to…’ guide is not going to be the “Shining City on the hill” for much longer.

        Posted by boostick | August 20, 2012, 10:02 am
      • Thank you for the reply.

        The circumstances you describe are, of course, not fact based. That bolsters my opinion that informed and involved politicians are essential. They are, for better or worse, on the front lines on issues like stem cell research and application. I am close to saying I favor the rule of the technocrats, but not quite.

        I hope doctors don’t allow reactionary thinking to skew research and fact, whatever their political preference. That is what worries me.

        Again, it feels important to note: I do not like Akin and I’m pro-choice. I think those opinions are based more on logic than emotion.

        Posted by Chris | August 20, 2012, 11:06 am
      • Obama is the best thing for women’s health since birth control. Can’t argue with his health care plan for women and everyone alike. Times will only get better if he is re-elected…Forward through the Fog.

        Posted by TrojanMan | September 1, 2012, 9:02 pm
      • Killing a baby is not medical care!

        Posted by ProLife | November 14, 2012, 11:03 am
  4. Great find. It’s kind of amazing how his bias led him to interpret the fact that pregnancies via rape are rare in almost the opposite way it is meaningful.

    Posted by Sara E Anderson | August 20, 2012, 10:03 am
  5. I a sane world, this would end his political career. I suspect that this will only endear him to his adoring band of “pro-lifers.” Further proof that the republic Is doomed…

    Posted by TGAP Dad | August 20, 2012, 1:08 pm
    • Personally I think it will cause an end for his career. Come on y’all, spread the word! Viral word is powerful. We can oust him, by not taking him seriously. By saying get the hell outta there, that makes no sense, end of story.

      Posted by VMom | August 21, 2012, 9:10 am
  6. Thanks Jen! Great write up.

    Posted by Richard Hartmann | August 20, 2012, 2:09 pm
  7. It would be so nice to believe that Congressman Akin’s beliefs are as rare as he thinks assault rape pregnancies are. Score one for magical thinking – as it would be so convenient if it were true and would help justify all anti-abortion opinions and denial of violence against women. And, if you really work on separating yourself from females, all those messy facts that could potentially ruin your speculations fade away; like children pregnant from incest, for instance.

    Posted by Suzanne Fouche | August 20, 2012, 11:48 pm
  8. Makes me wonder how he would feel if his wife, daughter, or granddaughter was raped? I’d bet on it changing his mind…..or would it? Rape is a very personal/private thing for a women or child to go through…..their feelings about it has no place in our goverment what so ever!!! It is a legal issure at best and should be treated so. No of course the child of a rape had no say in it, as did the mother of the child. It should be a private matter for the person/people involved. The goverments business should have no say in it what so ever…I am neither for abortion or against it..it is up to the individual that had to go through the trama ….everyone has the right to do what they feel is right for them! I am just sickened by the way people think they know whats best for someone else. Wasn’t this a free country at one time, did’nt we get to make our own choices once upon a time. The goverment needs to just get out of the situation before they are hated by all women who consider their bodies there choice! I am almost afraid to be a proud american at this stage of their game. Where will this this put us women who have been taught to stand up for our rights and make our own choices? shaking my head, but will always hold it high!!!!!!

    Posted by Dixie | August 21, 2012, 4:15 am
  9. What would happen if right-wing women ruled the world? Imagine if Sarah Palin or religious fanatics took over. Imagine if they took a strict interpretation of the biblical law against the “spilling of seed,” and men were not allowed to touch themselves. Oh, then you’d hear a howl from men and a great upwelling of angst!

    Well then, maybe you will have an inkling of the feeling women have when a bunch of angry old white men (i.e., the GOP) try to dictate to women what they can and cannot do with their own bodies. To wit: Senate challenger Todd Akin and his remarks on “legitimate rape.”

    Posted by christianliberal | August 21, 2012, 12:24 pm
  10. I have no doubt that this will incur a great deal of wrath but I am going to say it anyway. “Legitimate rape”…… It would seem to be a bone-headed concept, to be sure. However, as a veteran police officer, allow me to express a possibility as to what Todd Akin was thinking. This information (or misinformation) from Physicians For Life aside, there is a real aspect to this phrase to be considered.

    While it is absolutely true that most sexual assaults, rapes, go unreported to one entity or the other, that does not change the fact that many that ARE reported are not truly a sexual assault. I cannot tell you how many times I have handled cases that involved girls in their mid-late teens who “went too far” but, at the time, did so consensually, only to come to fear the possible consequences should they become pregnant and their parents find out. Women who were cheating on their husbands/boyfriends but claim they were raped. Prostitutes who had a john who failed to pay. These are just a few of the circumstances where rape is alleged but did not actually occur.

    Then too, there is the circumstance of what many know as “statutory rape”. Could well be that the 14 year old baby-sitter is completely willing and oh so in love with Mr. Jones. Now, from the physiological argument, if there were any basis to an overwhelming stress response inhibiting fertilization or implantation of the zygote, this would be a legal rape but not a forcible rape. Therefore, if there were any credence to such a theory, this would be rape only in a legal, ethical sense. That is, that the victim was not deemed able to give consent to the act by virtue of age and naivete. No less reprehensible an act by Mr. Jones, but not through force and not one that would have elicited an extreme stress response. But I digress.

    My point is, that not all encounters that are reported as rape are, in fact, rape. Therefore, it could well have been these events in which a woman’s fight or flight stress responses were not incurred that Mr. Akin was speaking of. I understand that in the early days of Roe v. Wade, when incest and rape were exceptions to the abortion laws, there were many who claimed rape that were not so and were never reported to law enforcement. I am not pretending to be in Mr. Akin’s head and know his intent; only that there is a plausible explanation for his comments, even if based in otherwise bad science, that are excusable.

    This is one of those political holes that once dug, most, if not all, efforts to dig your way out will prove futile.

    Posted by Hugh Noble | August 22, 2012, 8:45 pm
  11. Thank you so much for writing this! It’s so refreshing to hear from reasonable, sane people on this issue. I’ve felt so angry all week—I need to hear calm, intelligent voices to reassure me the world has not gone mad.

    Posted by aviatrixkim | August 24, 2012, 12:44 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: 'Legitimate Rape' Victims Have 'Ways To Try To Shut That Whole thing down' - Page 4 - SLUniverse Forums - August 20, 2012

  2. Pingback: Biology and its discontents « Rturpin's Blog - August 21, 2012

  3. Pingback: Does anyone really care about rape? « To Write the Good Write… - August 21, 2012

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