Responding To Akin: When Pro-Lifers Do The Work For Abortion Advocates

I think I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m a little surprised at the reaction to Rep. Todd Akin’s idiotic and unfortunate remarks on “legitimate rape” and the theory that rape victims’ bodies somehow protect them from getting pregnant as a result of the attack.

All of us say (and do!) stupid things at one time or another. Unfortunately, more of us are caught saying them now that media are omnipresent. And politicians seem to say more than their share of things that shouldn’t have been said, as our Vice President appears all too happy to demonstrate time and again.

But Akin has a 100% voting record from the Family Research Council and the National Right to Life Committee, meaning that he’s a 100% against abortion and 100% pro-life. If you want to go after people who are pro-abortion, look no further than Catholics for Obama or Emily’s List.

Instead, people like the editors at National Review Online and others (cf. Dennis Pragerand Ann Coulter), are taking their cues from The New York Times and NPR, calling for Akin to step out of the Senate race in Missouri. In other words, those who claim to support pro-life causes are essentially making this a bigger issue than it should be.

The NYT ran a story yesterday, “Health Experts Dismiss Assertions on Rape.”

Here’s a quote from the first expert:

“There are no words for this — it is just nuts,” said Dr. Michael Greene, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School.

Shouldn’t an expert be able to point to hard facts? Maybe a study or two? Instead, “it is just nuts.” Thanks for the expert opinion.

Here’s the second expert:

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.”

Wow. Passing his exams must be easy. His students just have to give opinions. No science here, folks. Just keep on driving. Nothing to see.

The only reference to a reputable study? Here you go:

But several experts said there is no solid data on such issues. A 1996 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, generally considered one of the few peer-reviewed research efforts on this subject, estimated that 5 percent of rapes result in pregnancy.

To say that there’s no solid data is not the same thing as refuting a theory. The rate of births among women of fertile age is about 6%. Adjusting for miscarriage, still birth, and abortions, would make the pregnancy rates higher. The one study offering a 5% rate of pregnancy resulting from rape is hardly conclusive one way or the other.

Interestingly, when searching the terms “ stress infertility,” The first ten articles, all from the NYT, included seven which suggested a link between the ability to get pregnant and stress. One article proclaimed no such link. Two were irrelevant.WebMD offers references to several articles supporting a connection between infertility and stress.

Now, if women trying to get pregnant are impeded by stress and the associated hormone factors, I don’t think it’s a far stretch to wonder if women who are raped might have a lesser rate of pregnancy resulting from the rape. After all, being the victim of a violent crime would be stressful, to say the least.

With regard to the use of the term “legitimate rape,” it’s a bad, bad choice of words which belies all sorts of confusion since terms like “date rape” were introduced. It’s either rape or it’s not. If it’s rape, it’s bad.

Is Akin a liability? Perhaps. But he becomes more of one when pro-lifers lead the attacks. If NPR and Mother Jones want to dissect Akin, by all means they can. There’s no secret about their ideological or political persuasions. [I don't see how an editor at MJ is an expert on the question of conception rates for rape victims, but the experts themselves have set the bar pretty low judging from the NYT piece referenced above.] However, people who are supposed to be on the same side of the issues as Akin should not do the work of his opponents. If there are bigger liabilities than a really bad gaffe, then please enumerate them.

Aside – the whole situation makes all too clear just how defensive people can be when trying to defend a pro-life position. Rape has nothing to do with the human dignity of the fetus. Both the fetus and the mother deserve much better than rape, but neither of their lives is worth any less insofar as they are victims.


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  • Austin Ruse

    Brava, Pia. Cathy and I have been saying the same thing. Our piece along these lines was rejected by the Corner yesterday. Somehow if his name was Bush, wouldn’t everyone be circling the wagons?

  • Jeff V.

    With all due respect, I think we’re comparing apples and oranges. When medical professionals (of which I am one) speak of an association between infertility and stress, it is my understanding that they mean CHRONIC stress–i.e., over months to years. While acute stress can certainly alter things such as cell counts and protein levels, I am unaware of any research showing that ACUTE stress–within minutes–can alter hormone levels. Ergo…Akin’s statement is in fact idiotic, no matter how you look at it.

    • Lawrence Gage

      “I think”. Data?

  • Ed Wassell

    Thanks for the excellent piece of writing Pia. You are very thoughtful. I am disappointed that the Republican leadership has asked him to step down, but I understand their political calculus. Given this fact, I would hope that Mr. Akin would heed their advice and resign from the race with dignity. Unfortunately, in this country with this political system, image weighs more than substance. I am sorry for Mr. Akin, he could have been a decent senator, but given our news media focus on personalities, his career as a politician is likely over. Thanks again for your thoughtfulness, we ought to stand with those who are unjustly ridiculed.

  • http://yahoo jane e. petry

    We speak as voters in Todd Akins district. I can say to you that yesterday we put a sign in our front yard with Todds name on it. Pia your last sentence is so powerful and speaks to the compassion we all feel for the victims of rape. I believe the GOP has done tremendous damage to the party by not standing with Todd. We share the thoughts of many when we say no $$$ to the GOP..only to individual candidates. Make no mistake those that joined in the attack on Todd will stand out in our mind. This is a most important election and all are nervous because the stakes are so high. However…as we move farward perhaps God is asking us to stand tall for life and the reward of being proud as Todd is… may just be rewarded. Our actions of running from this issue to find a safe spot truly speak to who we are. The courage God has given to us must be acted upon. Not easy…just necessary. God Bless and please pray for Todd and his family. Jane

  • Marjorie Campbell

    A person who has a 100% prolife voting record – maybe particularly such a person – who is holding public office and speaking on highly controversial, critical social issues like rape and abortion, needs to know how a woman’s body works. Misspeak? ~maybe … but I’ve heard a lot of “misspeak” about ethnic minorities which, regardless of the person’s voting record, contributes to polorazing public opinion. Sadly, the “misspeak” often reflects actual beliefs & understandings. These public positions are incredibly difficult jobs, in part because the media focus is intense and unforgiving. We need effective spokespeople, not just votes.

  • Elizabeth Kerr

    I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. However, all of the women I personally know who became pregnant subsequent to rape, did not WANT to have an abortion. Their reason? To quote: “I did not want to perform another act of violence on my own body.” Or: “It isn’t my fault my body responded like this. Why should I punish my body for responding like this?” I know we’re supposed to focus on the baby being a person, but sometimes it’s good to hear how not having an abortion is beneficial to the mommy too. Surely not all women feel this way. I’m just speaking from what I’ve witnessed for myself.

  • R Greene

    Hard to believe that there are still people out there trying to defend Todd Akin’s junk science.

    You question Dr. Michael Greene’s comments deriding Todd Akin when Akin spouts pure hooey.

    Really? REALLY?

    Try this analogy: Rep. Todd Akin goes on TV and in response to an interviewer’s question, states, “Despite all the ‘supposed’ evidence to the contrary, we the faithful KNOW that the Earth is indeed flat!”

    If Dr. Greene responded to that statement with “there are no words…it is just nuts” … would you still be asking him for some ‘hard facts’ rather than simply dismissingly giving that opinion?

    Well, the fact is that it’s the exact SAME situation. Rep. Akin’s assertion has about as much scientific justification as do the assertions of members of the Flat-Earth Society.

    In this situation, it is the responsibility of the crazy science theorist to offer up some ‘hard facts’ first, and it’s amazing that none of the self-appointed experts supporting these radically stupid positions (like Dr. John Willke) are able to offer any ‘hard facts’ to support them.

    Overall, your article seems to support the idea that Todd Akin is deserving of some kind of sympathy or pity for the way that the educated world piled on to him in response to his idiocy. I think I’ll reserve my pity for those who hold such ignorant opinions as a result of true ignorance, and NOT for a man who has a college degree, is on the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Representatives, and holds the sacred trust of his constituents to make decisions for them about their privacy and liberty.

    Given that Akin fits that profile to a “T”, his CHOICE to display such abominable ignorance (simply to support his radical political agenda) is not worthy of any form of sympathy or pity.

    And one last thing: Dr. Greene is a distinguished neonatologist who, over the course of a 35 year career, has saved hundreds or thousands of fetuses in some of the toughest problem pregnancies for his patients from all over the northeastern USA. One wall of his office is completely covered with pictures, received from grateful mothers, for his unending efforts to help them deliver healthy babies at every stage of their pregnancies.

    If “Dr. Akin” (God forbid!) gets elected and (God forbid!) gets his way legislatively, how many lives of desperate rape victims facing the unendurable prospect of bringing an embryo or fetus that was conceived in violence to term, will his new law save? The statistical facts of this nation’s experience with back-alley abortions prior to Roe v. Wade already give us that answer: 2,700 deaths a year, on average. I’d stack up Dr. Greene’s record against that one any time! Given these facts, perhaps you should re-consider who is really “on the side of the angels”?

  • Carmen Pacheco

    The Republican party changes its stance on every issue when convenient. If you do not know anyone who has been touched by rape, do NOT pretend you know anything. I am pro-life and a Christian and stand for the truth ….RAPE IS RAPE.

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