The Female Gaze: Conflict of Interest

Each week in The Female Gaze, Faith Newport engages the trends, events, and issues that affect women—and the men who care about them.

As the designated “women’s issues” writer here at CaPC, I get unofficial dibs on incidents impacting women–which seem to increase in number around election season. Today’s news offered me this little gem: A Republican candidate for Senate asserted that women who are victims of “legitimate rape” are practically guaranteed not to get pregnant. The politician, Rep. Todd Akin, has since apologized for being insensitive, but failed to acknowledge the scientific fallacy of his statements. In lieu of yanking my hair out by the roots, I’d like to offer up some facts.

Fact 1: There is no medical evidence that a woman’s fertility decreases in a rape situation.
After a rape, there are no “secretions” that have been detected, no physical mechanism that kicks in that actually prevents a pregnancy. There is however, plenty of evidence to support that thousands of women will indeed conceive after non-consensual sex. Our bodies react just as they would with safe, loving intercourse.

Not only that, but the best proven method for actually blocking post-rape pregnancies, commonly known as the Morning After Pill, is under fire from Conservatives. Although there is plenty of confusion in the matter, the truth is the contraceptive effect of birth control methods such as the Pill, Depo-Provera, and so on and that of the Morning After Pill are essentially the same. The Morning After Pill, like many other common forms of birth control, prevents implantation. Depending on your beliefs, this may still be very murky moral ground, which is why Personhood Amendments would make those methods illegal. The point being, however, the Morning After Pill should be treated just the same as its counterparts—yet conservatives single it out while being morally at-ease with other forms of contraceptives.

Politicians who want to ban emergency contraception without banning other popular non-barrier methods are accomplishing nothing from a pro-life standpoint. And the people who could suffer the most are the rape victims who don’t actually possess other biological defenses to keep themselves from becoming pregnant.

Fact 2: There is no research proving that rape stats are over-reported, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that rapes are under-reported.
Due to the severe trauma it delivers to the victim, rape is believed by experts to be under-reported, and the rate of false report is incredibly low. In rape cases, like any other criminal case, the accused must still be proven guilty. But women who have not been “legitimately” raped running around claiming that they have been is far from being a phenomenon.

Unfortunately, these kinds of fact vs. fiction discussions about abortion can keep us from noticing the awful truth that women who are raped suffer serious consequences, and one of those consequences may very well be a baby. It allows us to distance ourselves from the ugly, messy reality. That reality has no easy answers, no easy outs, and demands a lot of grace and love in response. It’s much simpler to distract with fallible claims about female biology, hint that the woman was to blame, or imply that she was never really raped in the first place.

Rep. Akin rightfully pointed out that someone should be punished for rape—he just wants it to be the perpetrator who is punished, not the potential child. I have to agree. The child is innocent, of course. Furthermore, having an abortion will only complicate a woman’s recovery, since it has been shown to cause ongoing negative effects on a woman’s mental and emotional health. But any discussion of the fetus’s innocence must also emphasize the woman’s innocence. Having a child as a result of rape can increase her trauma, slow her emotional recovery, and is costly in both the immediate and the long-term. If we agree that abortion is the wrong way to protect women, we have to be willing to find the new and better way.

If you truly believe in the “protection of all life,” as Rep. Akin claims to, you must be equally committed protecting women. That should include being knowledgeable about the issues that are important to them, such as this one, and being prepared to offer alternative solutions. I’ve already written a post here on CaPC about how pro-life politicians often miss the mark by coming down hard on abortion without making pregnancy a more viable option for women, and I still stand by that. The idea of “legitimate rape” being some sort of distinguishing factor is wrong and unjust to the many victims—most of whom will never see their abuser punished. In my opinion, Rep. Akin has fallen short of the mark, but perhaps this incident will help him (and our greater political discourse) head in a new direction. Being willing and able to do so will make it much easier for myself and other pro-life feminists to cast our votes this November.

About Faith Newport

Faith Newport writes, knits, drinks lattes, and sings in the shower in a small Midwestern town. She lives with two cats, too many books, and her very patient husband. Follow her on Twitter @knittybarista.

  • Jack

    Overall good article, but I would point out a few issues.

    #1. “Not only that, but the best proven method for actually blocking post-rape pregnancies, commonly known as the Morning After Pill, is under fire from Conservatives. —yet conservatives single it out while being morally at-ease with other forms of contraceptives.” – This is true, but it is only half the story. There is a rather large (Catholics) and growing (Protestant) group that look at all chemical contraceptives as abortifacients, because they prevent a fertilized egg (person) from being viable. The Conservative politicians get stuck having to cater to both the “pills are okay” and the “pills are not okay” groups, so that’s where the wonky stance comes from. Not saying it’s right, it’s actually pretty hypocritical, but to go against Feminism’s great accomplishment would be a hell of a sound bite to give to their opponent. And so it goes with politics, there is no black and white, just slight variations between 45-55% grey.

    #2. When the Akin sound bite hit the news cycle, I first heard it and picked up on the “Fact #1″ you mention, and just rolled my eyes. If I had a dollar for every uninformed, idiotic thing a politician, pundit, or reporter said, I’d be able to pay off the national debt.

    Then later that evening my wife and I heard were watching the evening news and she heard the sound bite. She immediately picked up on the “legitimate” and rarely have I seen her so engaged in anything political. She interpreted that word as the “no really means yes” crap, that has just become even more prevalent thanks to the worst the porn industry can produce.
    I was shocked. I didn’t get that view at all. I assumed he was referring to what you discuss in point #2.

    Admittedly I had always heard the 40% figure, I’m glad someone drilled down into that, but the data from the article you reference is no longer available (link is dead), so if you can find the original data I’d like to see it (engineer, I have to have data before I’ll believe something).

    #3. Drilling down into the articles spawned about Akins I found this interesting piece from years ago: http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/12/meet-the-predators/

    Interesting bit of research, that even if your fact 1 was wrong (and thus Akins was right), would still blow apart his argument. What this indicates is that the vast majority of rape is A) committed through the use of intoxicants, B) by someone the woman knows, C) not violent, and D) by a repeat offender (but not previously prosecuted). Bits A-C there would blow his mind, as that means the majority of rape is “illegitimate” by the Akin’s model.

    The data is pretty grim, but not entirely shocking. It is the same kind of data that has long existed about sexual abuse of children. We go to such extremes to warn our kids about “Strangers”, when the real risk is relatives and family friends. The pressure put on a victim to keep quiet is intense, as they are still apart of the social circle, so outing them would be a major disruption, and be ostracizing.

    #4. New bit in the news that I think fits well into this discussion is about the “redefinition” of rape, that was part of some pro-life bill Paul Ryan (along with most of the GOP and pro-life Democrats) was involved with. The wording was “forcible rape” versus just “rape”.

    Now this is all about legal jargon which gets quite interesting, but I wonder if there is in fact something to this. The intent, as Ryan defends it, was to remove “statutory rape” from the legal definition, which I can understand as that’s not “rape” as most people define it. It would also remove a massively stupid loophole: a 19 year-old gets a 17 year-old pregnant and she can get an abortion, but if they’re both 17 no dice. Considering how full our laws are of these kinds of idiotic contradictions, I applaud someone for thinking of it. However, did this open up an even bigger hole?

    So I looked up “forcible rape” and can see a vagueness: http://definitions.uslegal.com/f/forcible-rape

    In the more broad definition: http://definitions.uslegal.com/r/rape/ indicates that it varies state by state about being incapacitated/intoxicated. Again however, there is no indication in certain states if while intoxicated if it would even be considered “rape”.

    Seems to me there might actually be something to this accusation. Might not get to add a few thousand more dollars to my “uninformed idiots account”.


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