Magazine article The Christian Century

Disputed Sources Underlie Rep. Akin's Rape Remarks

Magazine article The Christian Century

Disputed Sources Underlie Rep. Akin's Rape Remarks

Article excerpt

"The question of rape always stirs the emotions whenever it is introduced into the abortion debate," wrote Dr. Fred Mecklenburg in 1972. "Unfortunately, the emotional impact of rape often clouds the real issues and the real facts."

Mecklenburg--an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Minnesota Medical School at that time--could not have known how prescient his words would seem 40 years later.

While Rep. Todd Akin (R., Mo.) cited only "doctors" as his source of information about the rarity of pregnancy resulting from rape, it is two pages, from Mecklenburg's 1972 article "The Indications for Induced Abortion: A Physician's Perspective," that have influenced two generations of antiabortion activists hoping to build a medical case to ban all abortions without exception.

In his article, Mecklenburg wrote that pregnancy resulting from rape "is extremely rare" and cited as an example statistics from Buffalo, New York, which had not seen "a pregnancy from confirmed rape in over 30 years." Other cities--Chicago, Washington, St. Paul--also had experienced lengthy spells without a rape-caused pregnancy, Mecklenburg wrote.

The reasons were numerous. Not all rapes result in "a completed act of intercourse," Mecklenburg wrote. He added that it was "improbable" that a rape would occur "on the 1-2 days of the month in which the woman would be fertile."

Mecklenburg's third reason was apparently picked up by Akin, who made his comments in a TV interview August 19. A woman exposed to the trauma of rape, Mecklenburg wrote, "will not ovulate even if she is 'scheduled' to."

But much other research disputes Mecklenburg's conclusions, both on the infrequency of pregnancy following rape and on natural defenses to prevent conception.

"From a scientific standpoint, what's legitimate and fair to say is that a woman who is raped has the same chances of getting pregnant as a woman who engaged in consensual intercourse during the same time in her menstrual cycle," said Dr. Barbara Levy, vice president for health policy at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

One widely accepted study from the Medical University of South Carolina suggests a 5 percent pregnancy rate following rape, resulting in 32,000 pregnancies annually. The report was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and cited by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But placing an exact figure on post-rape pregnancy is problematic, primarily because rape is thought to be underreported. Another factor is the availability of over-the-counter emergency contraception, which can prevent fertilization when taken after intercourse.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Mecklenburg's article was one of 19 in a book titled Abortion and Social Justice, published a year before the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.

In supporting his claim about trauma and ovulation, Mecklenburg cited experiments in Nazi death camps. The Nazis tested this hypothesis "by selecting women who were about to ovulate and sending them to the gas chambers, only to bring them back after their realistic mock-killing, to see what the effect this had on their ovulatory patterns. …

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