Sexual Health Experts Call 'Legitimate Rape' Argument 'Nuts'

US Supreme Court
Family, Self

The hero of the baffling legitimate-rape debate this country is having is not Missouri Rep. and Senate candidate Todd Akin, who, in a statement that he later apologized for and excused as an "off-the-cuff remark," seems to think that women's bodies magically block sperm from impregnating them during rape. In case you need a refresher, here's what he said in a recent TV interview:

"It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, [pregnancies that result from rape are] really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child."

The hero is also not Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who helpfully pointed out that babies resulting from rape can actually grow up to be people. (Thanks, thanks for that. I think.) 

The real hero, if we can call him that, of this completely unnecessary, offensive media debacle is Dr. John C. Willke, a general practitioner with obstetric training and a former president of the National Right to Life Committee, quoted in the New York Times. This man is an early proponent of the view that women who get raped rarely become pregnant, a view that has apparently been circulating around anti-abortion circles for awhile, usually only categorizing "forcible rape" as legitimate. Willke articulated this view in a book published in 1985, in a 1999 article, and in a NYT interview yesterday.

When considering what "forcible" or "legitimate" rape means, the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of rape is helpful: "unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent." See the word "forcibly" in there? Right. So what exactly is illegitimate rape? Is it rape by your husband? Or rape when you were drunk, or wearing provocative clothes? I'm not sure. Help me out here...

Anyway, let's turn to Willke's statement. It's so stomach-churning I couldn't even bear to include it until now.

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"This is a traumatic thing — she's, shall we say, she's uptight," Dr. Willke said of a woman being raped. "She is frightened, tight, and so on. And sperm, if deposited in her vagina, are less likely to be able to fertilize. The tubes are spastic."

She's frightened ... so she's turned barren all of a sudden? Irrefutable scientific argument, Dr. Willke. And excellent use of the word "uptight" in that sentence. Anyway, let's turn to some logic before I start ripping out my hair. 

I don't know what "doctors" Akin was talking to when he delivered the quote that launched a million angry blog posts, but according to professionals in the field, the "you can't get pregnant when raped" argument is bunk.

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"There are no words for this — it is just nuts," Dr. Michael Greene, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School, told the NYT. And Dr. David Grimes, a clinical professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina, said, that "to suggest that there's some biological reason why women couldn't get pregnant during a rape is absurd."

Besides, a 1996 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, estimated that 5 percent of rapes result in pregnancy, pretty on-par with the rate of non-rape pregnancies.

Let's let the actual doctors have the last word on this matter.