Rape, Pregnancy, Statistics and the Ignorance of Some Politicians

By Perry, Susan | MinnPost.com, June 13, 2013 | Go to article overview

Rape, Pregnancy, Statistics and the Ignorance of Some Politicians


Perry, Susan, MinnPost.com


Here we go again with the whack-a-mole idea that rape rarely results in pregnancy.

This time, however, I'm not sure if the politician who's promulgating that bogus idea is actually ignorant about rape and female biology or is simply using statistical language to be misleading.

The politician is Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., whose bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except when the mother's life is threatened was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Before the vote, the committee debated a Democratic amendment to the legislation that would have made exceptions for rape and incest.

The amendment was unnecessary, Franks said, because "the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy [is] very low." (The amendment was voted down by the Republican-led committee.)

Later on Wednesday, after his comments were criticized, Franks tried to clarify what he had meant. "Pregnancies from rape that result in abortion after the beginning of the sixth month are very rare," he said in a statement to CBSNews.com.

In other words, it would be highly unlikely for a pregnant rape victim to seek out abortion during her second trimester.

An unreliable source

As I noted here last August, when then-Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., stated during his failed 2012 Senate campaign that "legitimate" rapes don't result in pregnancy, the idea that pregnancy is a rare outcome of rape can be traced back to a 1999 article written by Dr. John C. Willke, a past president of the National Right to Life organization and the current president of the ban-all-abortions Life Issues Institute.

Willke claimed that the physical trauma of rape somehow shuts down the production of female hormones in a way that makes it highly unlikely that a rape victim will become impregnated.

That's all nonsense, of course.

In a 1996 study, researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina set out to determine the rape-related pregnancy rate in the United States. They estimated that about 5 percent of rape victims of reproductive age (12 to 45) become pregnant -- a percentage that results in about 32,000 pregnancies each year.

"Rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency," the researchers wrote. "It is a cause of many unwanted pregnancies and is closely linked with family and domestic violence."

Four years later, another study, this time conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, estimated that rape led to as many as 25,000 pregnancies in the U.S. each year.

"Pregnancy following rape is a continuing and significant public health issue," concluded the authors of that study. …

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