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.