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The Mathematics of 'Legitimate Rape' and Pregnancy 1469

Hugh Pickens writes "James Hamblin, MD writes in the Atlantic that it's unclear how common the misconception that women rarely become pregnant after rape may be, but remarks by Missouri Senatorial nominee Todd Akin that 'if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down' (video) may provide some benefit as a learning opportunity. 'From a holistic perspective, one might hypothesize that a woman's body could respond to the extreme stress and trauma of enduring rape in such a way that she would be physiologically more likely to miscarry (or not to conceive at all),' writes Hamblin. After all there is a multi-million dollar alternative reproductive health market aimed at optimizing an environment for conception so there could be something to a theory that the other, much darker end of that spectrum functions analogously. But that hypothesis doesn't hold, to any relevant degree. A widely-cited 1996 study from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology sampled over 4,000 women and found that the rape-related pregnancy rate was 5.0 percent and studies from other countries have reported the percentage to be even greater."
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The Mathematics of 'Legitimate Rape' and Pregnancy

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  • by flanders_down ( 2424442 ) <> on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @12:59PM (#41069705)

    "But that hypothesis doesn't hold, to any relevant degree. A widely-cited 1996 study from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology sampled over 4,000 women and found that the rape-related pregnancy rate was 5.0 percent and studies from other countries have reported the percentage to be even greater."

    A more likely explanation is that the women were already using some form of birth control or that they simply were not in the fertile period of their cycle.

  • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:02PM (#41069761) Journal

    One of the many books I've read on the subject - I believe it was O -The Intimate History of the Orgasm [] actually stated that in studies rape lead to a higher fertilization rate than consensual relations. I won't get into the theory of why, because it will potentially piss off feminists. I'll just say it is documented and statistically significant.

  • by hawks5999 ( 588198 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:11PM (#41069905)
    Well, there is statutory rape that may be non-violent and even consensual.

    Then there is a belief that all sex is a violent act against woman, most often misattributed as "All sex is rape" to Catherine MacKinnon or Andrea Dworkin. And while a mis-quote and mis-attribution, it has been repeated enough that it holds some place in society's subconscious.

    So while using the term "legitimate rape" was horrifically stupid, it has some basis in trying to differentiate forced rape or assault rape from things like statutory or "all sex is..." rape.

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:13PM (#41069949)

    the disturbing trend which gives rise to it is a serious problem politically, but more important, socially.

    Its a disturbing religious problem too. Look at the point of view of a brainwashed cult member when someone does something that their whacked out belief system doesn't like, in this example, abortion. Well, god certainly isn't going to punish her because there is none, this evidence creates huge cognitive dissonance issues for the cult members. And society is not going to punish her because outside of the cult no one cares, although the cult likes to tell itself everyone is a member, which makes huge cognitive dissonance issues for the cult members. So... abandoned by god and abandoned by society, how is a cult with some remaining political power supposed to react... Ah I know, use the law to enforce religious beliefs, so everyone, including the people outside the cult, have to live like cult members. That's the religious crisis, the religion is dying by becoming less relevant. Thus the desperate grasping at straws to legislate their twisted morality onto everyone else.... "You may not believe, you may not care about us, but dammit men with guns and judges in robes will force you to live like us, like it or not !!!" Its a classic symptom of a dying religion.

    See, a living, stable, maybe growing religion would not feel pressured to lash out. And frankly I as long as its consenting adults, etc, I don't care what crazyness cult members do to each other. As long as they leave the sane people, the non-members, the non-believers, alone... but no, they're terrified of their cults mortality so they lash out at the rights of everyone else.

  • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:19PM (#41070035) Journal

    No, the study tracked people wanting to have kids.

  • by pdabbadabba ( 720526 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:20PM (#41070045) Homepage

    A lot of people in the press have been playing fast and loose with Paul Ryan's connection to all this (largely for the flimsy reason that they were both cosponsors of the person-hood amendment), so I don't know what GP had in mind. But this much is worth reflecting on: Paul Ryan and Todd Akin also cosponsored a bill that would allow medicaid only to spend money for abortion services for women who were victims of "forcible rape" (instead of just "rape," which is how the law reads now). We might well have wondered why in the world Ryan and Akin thought that distinction was important. We still don't know about Ryan, but the evidence now seems to indicate that, for Akin, the answer may be that only "forcible" rapes are "legitimate." This, IMHO, is a repugnant view and we should be probably inquire to make sure that the GOPs VP nominee doesn't believe it too.

  • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:21PM (#41070071) Homepage Journal

    Something that *never* gets brought up (and ignored in discussions when I bring it up) is this fact: my genetics prof. when I was a freshman in college pointed out that if you believe that conception starts at fertilization then about 3/4 of the people conceived never are even born. This is because of the body's spontaneous abort mechanism that ceases pregnancies that have genetic problems.

    I wonder if Akin confused this with his idea that rape victims spontaneously abort. (Given Akin's lack of intelligence this is probably given him too much credit).

    Of course this idea sets a lot of the anti-abortion arguments on it's ear, since if you believe it then hell is filled with unbabtised babies.

  • No True Scotsman (Score:4, Interesting)

    by VorpalRodent ( 964940 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:29PM (#41070205)
    So, no true rapist gets their victim pregnant?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:30PM (#41070225)

    The senator's statements imply that if a women were to get pregnant in the case of rape it was not a "legitimate" or "real" rape.

    I'm totally not on Akin's side of this, but I do believe his words have been widely misunderstood. The way he said it, I took "legitimate rape" to mean "against their will, under duress, stress-inducing, back-alley rape." The other kind of rape would include statutory rape and possibly other forms that, while legally considered rape, don't create the physical and emotional response in women that "legitimate rape" would.

    I also think this is a problem with the statistics referenced in the article. I would like to see the rate of pregnancy resulting from sex-under-duress, instead of the rate of pregnancy resulting from sex-that-is-legally-considered-rape, because google tells me that the former would indeed likely be lower [].

  • by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <> on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:34PM (#41070283) Homepage

    Akin's comments were tasteless and ignorant of current knowledge/data, but since no one else is coming to his defense, I will.

    There are two aspects of his comments to which people take offense. To get the first out of the way quickly, "legitimate rape", the 2004 Maryland case [] of "delayed withdrawal of consent" is an example of "rape" that is not "legitimate".

    Now, onto the pregnancy statistics. The theory that rape resulted in few pregnancies was common among conservatives, as TFA states. It came from the amlgamation of two scientific reports. First, studies have shown that female orgasm increases fertility because the vagina draws the sperm up like a conveyer belt as well as opens up the cervix. Second, until just a couple of years ago, rape victims reported orgasms in only 5-20% of cases. A recent study, however, showed that up to 90% of rape victims orgasm -- including those who could not otherwise normally orgasm. Women in previous studies were too ashamed to admit it (and in fact it's the greater psychological trauma than from having been penetrated).

    This is an explanation for what was reported only in 2003, which is that the chance of pregnancy is greater [] with rape than with consensual.

    Akin's information was out of date, was widely accepted by anti-abortion advocates (esp in the past), and had some scientific basis that was skewed due to rape victims' misreporting.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:41PM (#41070399)

    Which is all fair. When a moronic claim is made science is a good way to determine exactly how moronic it is.

    Whether or not Akin's claim is true also has no bearing on whether women should have access to reproductive health services. It also has no bearing on whether or not Akin himself is a bumbling fucknut waste of human flesh who should be processed into a cheap meat-substitute.

  • by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <> on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:42PM (#41070421) Homepage

    The victim of rape should not be punished. And being forced to birth the child of your rapist is an unimaginably cruel punishment that wouldn't even be fit for a convicted criminal.

    Better let the muslim world know. There are parts where the rapist can get off the crime if they marry the person they rape. Though in most cases the girl simply commits suicide.

  • by DeathToBill ( 601486 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:44PM (#41070449) Journal

    I'm no familiar with Akin and his politics, but I presume that by "legitimate rape" he means a truthful complaint of rape. Therefore "illegitimate rape" is an untruthful complaint of rape. Are you saying that never happens?

  • by Antipater ( 2053064 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:46PM (#41070505)
    You think I'm defending him?. I think he's getting off easy by everyone being distracted by the "illegitimate rape" crap.
  • by dlsmith ( 993896 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:46PM (#41070519)

    I wasn't logged in, but to repeat my question (which is sincere—I'm trying to understand the science, not defend Akin's claims):

    I'm confused about the numbers in the paper's abstract. They say the pregnancy rate is 5%, and the number of resulting pregnancies annually in the U.S. is 32,000. That means the number of incidents of rape is 640,000.

    Other sources [] claim the number of reported rapes in the U.S. is around 90,000. How do we reconcile these numbers? Surely the authors don't claim that 86% of rapes in the U.S. go unreported?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:47PM (#41070531)

    There is a famous argument [] by Judith Jarvis Thomson that suggests that even GRANTING that a fetus is a full-fledged person with the same rights as everyone else, that STILL they do not have the right to infringe on the rights of the mother:

    You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. [If he is unplugged from you now, he will die; but] in nine months he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.

    Do you have a moral obligation to spend nine months hooked up to this person to keep them alive because you were selected to loan out your kidneys by a third party?

  • by Ironhandx ( 1762146 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:48PM (#41070551)

    IMHO statutory rape shouldn't exist at an age 18 threshold.

    If we're going to argue immaturity while the persons body is well capable of the act then the brain doesn't finish maturing until 25.

    Additionally it might slow down this rash of two under 18 parents with a kid all of a sudden.

    The age should be lowered to 16 at the very least, and Canadas law of 14 made the most sense.

    The instances of an under-14 year old girl going after sex in a bar somewhere and actually getting away with people thinking she's 18-19+ are extremely rare. The instances of a 14+ girl doing the same are extremely common. This is what the original law was based on. The 14+ year old is probably physically matured(they almost definitely are by 16), and is likely very curious about sex. There are a fair number of these girls that then go out and look for an older and (They presume) more experienced guy to introduce them to it, often lying about how old they are in the process. The guy doesn't even always find out how old she was.

    Most guys in Canada follow the under 18 guidelines anyways as a general rule, however I know more than one that's been hit with a 15 or 16 year old that looked way fucking older. Now you have to I.D. them before you can let them on for a ride.

    From the other side I know at least two girls I went to high school with that did exactly what I described. This was out of a class of 32, so percentages of girls doing this are actually significant, though this is somewhat anecdotal as it is a small sample size, I wouldn't be surprised to find similar throughout north america.

    I'm not saying there shouldn't be some form of punishment, but 14-18 non-forcible sex should be a much more minor offense of some sort, with under-14 being the auto-rape.

  • by Golddess ( 1361003 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @02:04PM (#41070831)
    I don't suppose you'd be willing to share your name and address with us, so that people might be able to leave the babies on your doorstep that you so obviously wish to help raise, would you? Or perhaps give us unfettered access to your bank account to make withdraws in order to pay for things for all these babies, would you?

    If you are ok with that, then I apologize for insinuating otherwise. But in my experience, people who are against any and all abortions regardless of circumstance, also have no desire to help raise all the children that they are hoisting on people against their will.
  • by cant_get_a_good_nick ( 172131 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @02:05PM (#41070843)

    The concept of a human, say vs. a lump of human cells (please read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, it's pretty interesting) usually includes the concept of consciousness, which for most babies doesn't occur at birth. Obviously a baby is alive, and has feelings and such, but consciousness as humans understand it doesn't appear to exist. A very interesting possibility is that consciousness is thinking, and you need language to think. There was a RadioLab Episode [] where they interviewed deaf people after they learned Sign Language, and they claimed an altered consciousness before they knew language, as if it was a void before.

    That said, my wife has a very good friend who claims to have memories in utero, and of her own birth. I have no reason to doubt her. So there are at least a few counterarguments to the GP claim.

  • by Sebastopol ( 189276 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @02:08PM (#41070893) Homepage

    Just my quick $0.02 because I keep reading the word "feminist" used as a pejorative.

    Unless you think women should not be able to vote, get an education, drive, or hold the same jobs men do, you are a feminist.

    Feminism is often associated with the left-wing equivalent of right-wing nutjobs. While yes, there are a small %age women out there who fit an unflattering image of what most conservatives visualize when they hear the word feminist, in reality, most civilized mature people are feminists, regardless of political party, religion, or other demographic.

    Of course, those of you who think women actually do belong uneducated, imprisoned (nonconsensually), barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, are truly not feminists.

    Carry on.

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @02:14PM (#41070979) Homepage
    Akins rant was a success. Recognition and discussion has reached a national level for this candidate, but do we even know who hes running against? people are rightly polarized and outaged now but this strategy seems to be an old one for the GOP that harkens back to their sterling allies on AM radio. Say something incendiary, let the audience simmer for a while and see what they think, then direct the conversation where you think it needs to go.
    The GOP is elected on the coattails of the culture war, nothing less. Once in office they act solely in the interest of the upper class but they need a vehicle to get them there. Points to Akin for avoiding complicated issues like the economy, for which the GOP have no coherent or reasonable answer but to continue shoveling money into the cauffers of the rich.
  • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @02:24PM (#41071167) Homepage Journal

    The debate is actually over whether it's a harmful medical procedure performed on the fetus. Basically one group sees the woman as a caregiver who has by her actions taken over care of another individual currently incapacitated from caring for themselves, and doesn't believe a woman should be allowed to casually withdraw care given that it is 100% likely to lead to the death of said individual. The other group says if an individual hasn't been seen yet, it doesn't exist, and thus executing said individual is fine and not murder.

    Both groups are really kind of strange. For example, the second group generally doesn't function as stated verbatim, but rather believes that at some arbitrary time the unseen individual is suddenly real (like, second, third trimester, a specific number of days into pregnancy), just a magic but arbitrary switch that has nothing to do with physical development; the other group believes the same thing, but the thing suddenly becomes an individual earlier. I don't believe newborn babies are any different than a fetus: they're blank and have no individuality, and a one-day-old is pretty worthless and not really a human being but just a collection of cells.

  • by Shompol ( 1690084 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @02:36PM (#41071399)
    What people remember and what they *think* they remember is not the same. Example:
    There was a surgeon who got tired of hearing stories how patients escaped their bodies during surgery and hovered in the room during procedure. So he placed a large bright object on top of a tall cabinet, and every time this story came up he asked what was the bright object in the operating room. So far no answer.
  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @02:37PM (#41071421) Homepage

    Interestingly enough, there was recently a case that sorta dealt with the first situation: A 20-year-old woman slept with a 16-year-old Justin Bieber, committing statutory rape. A pregnancy ensued. She claimed paternity against Justin Bieber, but changed her mind and dropped the claim once she realized that to claim paternity would be to admit to her crime of rape.

    As far as I know, this kind of situation hasn't actually been tested in court - the tough part is that it's probably in the best interests of the child to have dad's financial support, but at the same time it seems unfair to punish dad for being raped.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @02:41PM (#41071469)

    The lack of real facts and they grayness of it all is precisely why it should be left up to individuals to decide. Personally, it a line must be drawn, I think the least arbitrary line is at birth. At conception is might be a good line, but it is so hard to measure and so many things can go wrong between conception and first trimester.

  • by guises ( 2423402 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @02:41PM (#41071481)
    Ted Stevens was chair of the committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation when he made his little "series of tubes" speech, and that didn't get rid of him. He only resigned when he was convicted for corruption (he might not have been chair anymore at that point, I'm not sure), and he was only just barely removed from the senate despite his conviction.

    Being competent isn't what matters as long as you can convince your base that your opponent is a socialist who wants to take their jorbs.
  • by The Faywood Assassin ( 542375 ) <benyjr AT yahoo DOT ca> on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @02:45PM (#41071527) Homepage

    I have always been of the opinion that while Christian conservatives decry Islam as evil, they are secretly jealous of it. Afterall, Islam has permeated many governments in the Middle East to a degree which most Christian conservatives could only hope to achieve.

  • by mjr167 ( 2477430 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @02:54PM (#41071673)
    Wouldn't it make god guilty of murder?
  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:17PM (#41072001) Journal

    The other group says if an individual hasn't been seen yet, it doesn't exist, and thus executing said individual is fine and not murder.

    This is something that a lot of pro-choicers have to tell themselves so they feel better about themselves. By any reasonable definition a fetus is a human being, all of the arguments to the contrary to hold water, IMHO. "It's just a collection of cells!", yeah, well, so are you. "It doesn't even have a brain yet!", well, neither does someone in a persistent vegetative state, but it's still considered murder to put a bullet in their head.

    Now I happen to be pro-choice, I believe that the issue is one of balancing the rights of the Mother vs. the rights of the unborn child. I don't believe that soceity has a right to tell one person that they MUST do something to keep another person alive. The analogy that I like to make is organ donation -- can I be compelled to give you a kidney, blood, or bone marrow if I'm the only compatible donor and the alternative is your death? Of course not, my right to control my body is paramount. Likewise, I don't believe we have the right to tell a woman that she MUST carry a baby to term.

    One can be pro-choice without rationizing their position with moral hair-splitting about the fetus not being a person.

  • by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @04:02PM (#41072751) Homepage Journal

    I don't mind paying my share of it.

    I don't mind paying my share of well-baby services, national parks, promotion of the Arts, space exploration, pregnancy care, taking care of people who have fallen upon hard times, etc, etc, etc.

    I object far more to paying for weapons systems that are black holes of funding and deliver barely-functional weapons. I object to paying for wars that never should have been waged. I object to paying for subsidies that wind up going to already-highly-profitable corporations.

    Oh, and I don't like welfare fraud, either.

    But some 20 years ago, while hearing a far-right-wing co-worker rail about welfare while the Savings and Loan Scandal was ramping up, I realized something. In the Savings and Loan Scandle, rich people bilked ordinary people of billions, then managed to skate away scott-free. My tax dollars helped "fix the mess". Essentially I indirectly gave a bunch of my money to Neil Bush. (to name one, but there were others)

    Since then I have come to believe that far more of my tax dollars go to people making more than me than go to people making less. I don't begrudge the downtrodden. Even if he's a lazy bum, and I don't believe most are, it's a small price to pay, to make sure that the truly deserving are covered.

    By the way, you may never need pregnancy services. Do you have a wife or sister? What about your mother?

  • by turkeyfish ( 950384 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @04:08PM (#41072843)

    Your logic exposes the unappreciated danger in the movement to legislate that "life begins at fertilization". This legislation proposes to give legal rights to the fetus that equals that of the already born. Consequently, it runs smack into the biological reality of human reproduction.

    For women who are actively engaging in sexual intercourse with their partner (or rapist), on average only 30-70% of fertilized eggs implant on the endometrium and consequently most are incapable of resulting in live birth. However, republican Ryan/Atkin legislation would make all such women serial murderers simply for having a normal menstrual cycle. Lactating women would be at even greater threat of persecution since their bodies produce hormones that make it even more likely the fertilized embryo will fail to implant. This legislation will necessarily require a network of police gathering up sanitary napkins to determine the presence of fertilized egcs to establish if these women have actually committed murder during their menstrural cycle. Otherwise the law would be unenforceable and allow "murderers to go free".

    The legislation would also make an ectopic pregnancy in which the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterine wall a virtual death sentence. This is the most common form of complication during pregnancy. An ectopically pregnant woman would be unable to receive the medical procedure (abortion) required to save her life and if she did manage to obtain such medical care, she would be guilty of murder. With 4,131,019 births in the US in 2009 and a rate of about 1% of all pregnancies being etopic, this would mean the incarceration or execution of about 41,000 women per year in the US. It also creates a tenuous legal situation for the men who fertilized the eggs since they could be subject to prosecution for conspiracy to commit murder.

    This ignores the irony of potentially requiring the victims of rape to be executed, while simultaneously providing the rapist with the legal defense that it would be a violation of his constitutional right to religion to be prosecuted for rape, since the pregnancy was "gods will".

    It is for good reason that church and state must remain separate and that the boundary needs to be made brighter. I would propose taxing churches like we do other businesses to insure that the line is not blurred by legal loopholes, such as taken by Romney to deduct his gifts to his church as a tax exemption.

  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <`moc.stiucricve' `ta' `ive'> on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @04:47PM (#41073477) Homepage

    The problem here is with religion, more specifically the Abrahamic ones.

    1) If you remove the idiot their faiths have an inherent persecution complex (Christians, Jewish or Muslims) which makes them blame you for removing the idiot and put him in a martyr situation thereby legitimizing his initial complaint.

    2) Disproving won't help for the same reason. They still believe in creation regardless of the evidence and the proof for evolution that has piled up in the last 2 centuries.

    They believe their 'holy texts' which say that if a woman gets raped and doesn't scream she is supposed to be stoned, if a women gets raped and carries babies she has to keep them, if a women gets raped she is supposed to get married to her rapist and her father is paid however much a slave is worth and if a women gets raped she brings shame upon her family, her husband has a right to a no-fault divorce where he gets to keep all the stuff and is supposed to be forever an outcast in the society as she is no longer a virgin. -- and that's just the Judeo-Christian texts.

  • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @04:51PM (#41073533)

    How can something grow if it isn't alive?

    A tumor grows. Does that mean the tumor is alive and deserves federal protection? A fetus really isn't all that different than a parasite, it can only exist as long as the host does.

  • by Dahamma ( 304068 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @06:16PM (#41074679)

    third trimester, a specific number of days into pregnancy), just a magic but arbitrary switch that has nothing to do with physical development;

    Not necessarily arbitrary or magical. At some point the fetus has developed far enough to be more than a mass of barely differentiated cells into a viable organism on its own (possibly requiring intensive care but viable nonetheless). There can still be debate as to exactly when that period is, but at least those hypotheses are scientifically testable and not some religious mumbo-jumbo about immortal souls and holy spirits.

  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @04:55PM (#41086485) Homepage Journal

    What about the father's right in the decision? He gets no say at all?

    Of course not, we're second hand citizens, and it's even worse than that. Dad want to keep the child and mom doesn't? Fetus aborted. Mom wants the child and dad doesn't? Baby born, father forced to pay for raising it.

    I would love to see things as you logically pointed out, but men have become second class citizens in the US.

"Say yur prayers, yuh flea-pickin' varmint!" -- Yosemite Sam