The issue of abortion and rape was brought to the forefront with the failed candidacies of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock during the American general election, and the Democratic exploitation of their gaffes. Akin, a Republican Senate candidate and outgoing congressman in Missouri, set off a media firestorm when asked last Summer on KTVI-TV about his position on abortion in cases of rape. “First of all, from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy from rape) is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” he said. “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 on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
Immediately after the interview was released on Aug. 19, the media and his political opponents lambasted his comments. Akin quickly said that he “misspoke,” but maintained that he did not support abortion in cases of rape. Reuters reported that Akin’s comments have “medieval roots.” A Washington Post article criticized Akin’s referral to “legitimate rape” and claims that he “suggested women would not become pregnant if they were raped.” Michael Macdonald wrote for Canada’s Postmedia chain that Akin’s “loathsome opinions, forming a somewhat abridged version of How to lose friends and alienate people have been rightfully criticized by … basically the entire English speaking world.” The day after the interview was released, even the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement decrying Akin’s comments for being “medically inaccurate, offensive, and dangerous.”
Todd Akin’s comments lost him the backing of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney, Crossroads GPS (a super PAC or political action committee headed by Karl Rove), and the conservative movement’s preeminent magazine, National Review. He received support, though, from RandPAC (Senator Rand Paul’s super PAC), FRC Action PAC (belonging to the Family Research Council), 2008 GOP presidential primary candidate Mike Huckabee, and 2012 GOP presidential primary candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
It was not enough in the end. The incumbent, Senator Claire McCaskill, won almost 55 per cent of the vote, with Akin taking only 39 per cent. Akin was leading in the polls before the interview was released.
But were Akin’s comments as outrageous as they were made out to be? Although recent oft-cited studies show that women have a higher chance of becoming pregnant after rape, a series of 1970s studies (for instance, “Sexual Assault on Women and Girls” by Hayman and Lanza in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology) cited in Why Can’t We Love Them Both: Questions and Answers by Dr. John C. Willke and Barbara H. Willke, showed very low rates of pregnancy after rape. Dr. Willke also wrote that the trauma of rape would be less conducive to pregnancies.
In a blog for the Wall Street Journal, Carl Bialik points out that there is a wide variation in estimates of how many pregnancies are caused by rape. Calculating the chance of rape-caused pregnancy “would require reliable figures on rates of ejaculation by rapists, on the exact ages of rape victims, and on the rate of their hormonal-contraceptive use, all of which are known with various degrees of uncertainty.”
Akin’s should not have said that conception was not possible during rape but the science suggests that it could be much less likely.
The second rape-related controversy was generated during an Oct. 23 debate in the Indiana senatorial race. Republican Richard Mourdock, defending his position for only allowing abortion if the mother’s life was endangered, said, “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.”
Democrat opponent Joe Donnelly, who voted for Obamacare but was endorsed by Democrats for Life, accused Mourdock of saying that God supports rape. The media reported that Mourdock said God wants rape pregnancies, rather than the more straightforward interpretation that God intended the creation of a new life. Mourdock received support from five women conceived in rape appearing in a video defending his stance. He was also praised by Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, for his position. The Romney campaign, which supported abortion in cases of rape, still backed Mourdock, although it distanced itself from his comments. Donnelly ended up beating Mourdock 49 to 43 per cent.
After the election, conservative pundit Ann Coulter penned a column declaring Akin and Mourdock to be “idiots,” “purist grandstanders,” and “pro-life badasses” for opposing abortion in cases of rape and incest. According to Coulter, who has been accused of being over-the-top in support of her pro-life position, charged the senate candidates with taking, “insane positions with no practical purpose whatsoever, other than showing off.” According to her, rape victims will never be denied an abortion. “Yes, it’s every bit as much a life as an unborn child that is not the product of rape. But sentient human beings are capable of drawing gradations along a line.”
Some individuals conceived by rape, though, think of the issue differently. Rebecca Kiessling, a pro-life activist who was conceived in rape and almost aborted twice (illegally), wrote on her blog, “the only reason I wasn’t killed through a brutal abortion is because I was legally protected. My heroes are those pro-life legislators and activists who were hard-working and intelligent enough to understand that mine was a life worth saving.” She states that pro-lifers should try to change hearts and minds when it comes to rape, as she was able to do with Texas Governor Rick Perry. “The lives of children conceived in rape are often minimized with the standard dismissive language of: “Well, it’s only 1 per cent.” Why continue to minimize? Why not stand up and really defend our lives?” She recommends using pro-life speakers who were conceived out of rape to educate the public.
Another person born from a rape pregnancy is Ryan Scott Bomberger, the co-founder and chief creative officer of the Radiance Foundation. “We are the tangible examples that Planned Parenthood and pro-abortion activists love to hate. We present another side of the story – not one promoting legislative agendas, but one that personalizes this issue so recklessly and carelessly handled by the mainstream media,” he explains.
The other side of the issue, the impact of abortion on rape victims themselves, received extensive treatment by AfterAbortion.org, a website by the Elliot Institute focusing on the effects of abortion and providing resources to victims, and the Ad Hoc Committee of Women Pregnant By Sexual Assault (WPSA), which petitions Congress for the opportunity to inform the public about the experience of pregnancy as a result of rape or incest.
Deana Schroeder of the WPSA, who had an abortion after a rape pregnancy, points out that the “social myth that abortion is the best option” only causes more trauma for rape victims. About half of rape pregnancies are aborted according to a 1996 AJOC study. “That so many women choose to give birth after rape, despite the social expectations and pressure to abort, should give you pause,” says Schroeder. “Why aren’t all rape victims embracing the conventional wisdom that abortion is the best treatment for rape pregnancies?” However, the social myth is so powerful that victims who want to keep their children fear facing suspicion on the part of family and friends of whether they were really raped.
David Reardon, the director of the Elliot Institute, reports that according to the organization’s “Victims and Victors” study of 164 women, 43 per cent of rape victims who have an abortion said they felt pressured by their family, friends, doctors, and counsellors. A staggering 94 per cent would not recommend abortion to others in the same circumstances. The rape “does not change their underlying core beliefs about the morality of abortion or the nature of what is growing inside them,” Reardon wrote. “Many saw the birth of the child as a positive good coming out of evil, as opposed to the destruction and violence of rape.” Reporters “always avoid posing these questions to women who have actually experienced a pregnancy resulting from rape,” he stated. “Unless they listen to women who have been there, many pro-life politicians will continue to misspeak and mishandle the issue and see their words twisted.”