November 12th, 2015
When he was running for the U.S. Senate last summer, Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican from Missouri, made a huge gaffe; he claimed that female rape victims’ bodies “just shut down,” preventing pregnancy from occurring. Therefore, according to that logic, any rape that resulted in pregnancy was, instead, consensual. His statement was in support of proposed policies that would restrict the availability of abortion even in the case of rape or incest.
But what would Akin, a former member of the House Science and Technology Committee, have found out if he researched the science of what happens during violent sexual assault? He would have read that the opposite of his claim happens.
A study conducted 10 years ago (yes, that long ago) found that pregnancy rates from rape were much higher than pregnancy rates from consensual sex. A study even older than that found that even if you controlled for contraception use, the incidence of pregnancy due to rape was 8%, compared to 3.1% for pregnancy due to consensual sex.
How can this happen? A more recent study looks at the effects of stress. Since rape is an act of violence and not sexual attraction, the extreme stress on victims may trigger ovulation. A group at the University of Valencia, Spain, found that stress reactions that spurred the hormone ACTH (which stimulates the adrenal glands), which in turn can generate higher levels of luteinizing hormone (LH), which is involved in ovulation.
All the more reason to provide more protection to rape victims. And what happened to Akin, a long-time opponent of abortion? After stepping down from the House, he lost his bid for the U.S. Senate. Badly.
Gottschall, J., & Gottschall, T. (2003). Are per-incident rape-pregnancy rates higher than per-incident consensual pregnancy rates? Human Nature, 14 (1), 1-20 DOI: 10.1007/s12110-003-1014-0
Tarín, J., Hamatani, T., & Cano, A. (2010). Acute stress may induce ovulation in women Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 8 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1477-7827-8-53
Wilcox AJ, Dunson DB, Weinberg CR, Trussell J, & Baird DD (2001). Likelihood of conception with a single act of intercourse: providing benchmark rates for assessment of post-coital contraceptives. Contraception, 63 (4), 211-5 PMID: 11376648
pregnancy in rape victims, abortion statistics rape victims