Candidate says ‘legitimate rape’ rarely causes pregnancy
The Republican nominee for a U.S. Senateseat in Missouri on Sunday advanced the theory that the female reproductive system can shut down during what he described as a “legitimate rape,” thus preventing conception in most cases.
Rep. Todd Akin, a tea party candidate who is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri’s closely watched race, was asked in a local television interview about whether he supported access to abortion in the case of rape.
“If abortion could be considered in the case of, say, a tubal pregnancy [which threatens the mother’s life], what about in the case of rape?” asked KTVI-TV host Charles Jaco, in a clip disseminated by Talking Points Memo. “Should it be legal or not?”
“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin said, referring to conception following a rape. “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.”
According to a 1996 study by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, an estimated 32,101 pregnancies resulted from rape each year. The journal put the national rape-related pregnancy rate at 5% among victims ages 12 to 45.
In a comment later posted on Facebook, Akin did not explicitly retract his view that rape would rarely result in pregnancy.
“It’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,” he said. “I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”
Later, he added a more explicit tweet: “To be clear, all of us understand that rape can result in pregnancy & I have great empathy for all victims. I regret misspeaking.”
By Sunday night, Akin’s Facebook page had more than 1,500 comments on the issue, most of them negative.
The initial comment by Akin — who sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology— led to instant condemnation from his opponent and women’s advocates.
McCaskill tweeted: “As a woman & former prosecutor who handled 100s of rape cases, I’m stunned by Rep. Akin’s comments about victims this AM.”
Later, in an emailed statement, she said: “It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape. The ideas that Todd Akin has expressed about the serious crime of rape and the impact on its victims are offensive.”
A short time later, McCaskill’s campaign manager, Adrianne Marsh, emailed a fundraising appeal to supporters with the subject line “Legitimate rape?”
Late Sunday, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney weighed in.
“Gov. Romney and Congressman [Paul] Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
Women’s rights advocates were infuriated by Akin’s wrongheaded biology lesson and the implication that some rapes were not “legitimate.”
“Obviously, women have become pregnant from rape,” said Gloria Allred, the veteran women’s rights lawyer. “Sometimes it’s child rape, sometimes it’s stranger rape, sometimes it’s acquaintance rape, but whatever you call it, it is rape. For him to put misconceptions into the marketplace of ideas, this is dangerous.”
When Allred was in her early 20s, she has said, she was raped at gunpoint in Mexico and became pregnant. “I had to have an abortion that was illegal for the doctor to give, but not illegal for me to receive,” she said Sunday.
“What he’s saying is dangerous and needs a clear response. We shouldn’t discount it and just say he’s trying to appeal to a political base. There is a strong constituency in Missouri and elsewhere which wants to chip away at a woman’s right to choose abortion. This is the extreme of the extreme.”
In a reverse-psychology move to influence the outcome of the three-way Republican primary so that she would face the candidate she perceived as the weakest, McCaskill’s campaign spent about $2 million on ads that described Akin as “too conservative.”
It’s unclear whether that strategy has been effective. Before his rape comments, Akin had been leading McCaskill by several percentage points in recent polls.