Legitimate Rape

By now, everyone is familiar with Missouri Republican Todd Akin’s claim that women don’t get pregnant from ‘Legitimate rape’, whatever the fuck that is.The story is everywhere, but here’s the CBC

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape is] really rare,” he had told KTVI-TV. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

He doesn’t explain what he means at all. He has also issued a ridiculous non-apology.

“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, 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,” Akin’s statement said.

Akin also said in the statement he believes “deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”

Again, he’s not strong with the definitions. What part of his earlier comments is he disavowing? Is it something he believes, and is now sorry that he said it out loud? Perhaps he is referring to the ancient idea that the probability of pregnancy occurring during a sexual act is directly related to a woman’s orgasm.

From The Guardian UK

The idea that rape victims cannot get pregnant has long roots. The legal position that pregnancy disproved a claim of rape appears to have been instituted in the UK sometime in the 13th century. One of the earliest British legal texts, Fleta, has a clause in the first book of the second volume stating that:

“If, however, the woman should have conceived at the time alleged in the appeal, it abates, for without a woman’s consent she could not conceive.”

This was a long-lived legal argument. Samuel Farr’s Elements of Medical Jurisprudence contained the same idea as late as 1814:

“For without an excitation of lust, or the enjoyment of pleasure in the venereal act, no conception can probably take place. So that if an absolute rape were to be perpetrated, it is not likely she would become pregnant.”

This “absolute rape” is not quite the same as Akin’s “legitimate rape”. Akin seems to be suggesting that the body suppresses conception or causes a miscarriage, while the earlier idea of Farr relates specifically to the importance of orgasm. Through the medieval and early modern period it was widely thought, by lay people as well as doctors, that women could only conceive if they had an orgasm.

I remember this idea being promulgated by some girls in high school back in the 70s. I also remember several girls wearing maternity clothes under their graduation gowns. What I never did find out, or even consider, was whether they enjoyed the pregnancy inducing sex act enough to orgasm or how if they were the victims of legitimate or perhaps illegitimate rape.

The concept behind this is an aspect of ‘slut shaming’, where young women are criticized and even ostracized for the perception of promiscuity. This is another holdover from medieval religion, and is often identified with the more fundamental sects, where any exposed female flesh incites lust in men.  It is tied in with patriarchal ideas of sexuality that persist throughout the general population. we often hear stories where rape is often dismissed because of a woman’s past sexual history or even her clothing or perhaps as a way for a woman to express regret over an indiscretion. Just check any the website of any men’s rights group for more details.

In this incidence, there is no doubt that Akins’ words came from his religious background, but it is important to remember that the idea is much more widespread than religious fundamentalists.

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11 Responses to Legitimate Rape

  1. Lee says:

    “Just check any the website of any men’s rights group for more details.”


  2. Lee says:

    All right, then, no link 😦

    I did some looking into this Akin thing, and I might have found what he meant by “legitimate” rape in the context of abortion law. If you outlaw abortion in X state, except in the case of rape or incest, women who want an abortion for other reasons might resort to claiming rape/incest in order to take advantage of the exception. Indeed, if you are one who believes abortion should be the right of the mother on moral grounds, it would be hard to see why you would feel using that clause to be problematic.

    That interpretation of his comments appears more consistent with his voting record and conservative viewpoints. What do you think?

    Obviously, though, his idea that you’re less apt to become pregnant from rape is just flat wrong, and given contraceptive technology, you’re more likely to become pregnant from being raped than from consensual sex. THAT part, I can agree with you and the rest of the world about 🙂


  3. This is related to other anti-choice advocates and legislators using the term ‘forcible rape’ as a way to cover up their anti-woman stance. It differentiates rapes as different types, and suggests some are not as serious as others. In various places over the past few days, I have read stories written by women whose rapes were dismissed by police because they didn’t show signs of putting up a fight (i.e. bruises). Also, there is not much information on how many, if any, women make false charges of rape.
    I do agree that for someone who is a radical anti-choice, any loophole that could possibly used by women must be closed. In this the Roman Catholic Church is at least consistent on their stance on contraception and abortion. Like Akin and his ilk, they are consistent ; despicable wrong, and dishonest, but consistent.

    • Lee says:

      The “different types” of rape argument isn’t an honest reading of Akin’s comments. By “legitimate”, he appeared to be differentiating between instances of actual rape, and instances where individuals will attempt to game the system to their advantage (in the case of a law against abortion, claiming an exception where they do not qualify). The question of establishing that a crime has taken place is universal in our justice system, and as I said previously, that burden will result in injustice sometimes.

      There is plenty of information about false charges of rape, even if you only accept instances where there is conclusive(eg video) evidence against the charge, or instances in which the “victim” genuinely recants. Moreover, people file false criminal charges all the time if they think the benefit outweighs the risk; insurance fraud is one example of this mentality. It’s silly to think most rape charges are false without some pretty compelling evidence to support that contention, but even if we ignored stories like the Duke lacrosse team, the law of large numbers stipulates that some of those rape accusations are false.

      I’m pro-choice, but I take the pro-life camp seriously. There are genuine ethical and practical concerns to be considered, and our perspectives on these issues are not simply matters of fact to be declared correct or incorrect.

      • In the quotes I can find from his ‘apology‘ he claims that he meant to say ‘forcible’ rape. He makes no indication he was referring to false claims. I had forgotten about the Duke case, as a false claim, and you are correct on that. However, the term forcible has a different meaning in the minds of people like Akin.

  4. Lee says:

    Yeah, in that case, the most charitable reading of his comments could be differentiating between statutory rape or incest(consensual but illegal), and sex-by-force(non-consensual and illegal). Even then, though, it doesn’t make sense to deny abortions in the case of statutory rape, and incest is one of the exceptions. I guess I’m just hard-wired by temperament to give people the benefit of the doubt; failing that, to apply Hanlon’s Razor:

    “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

    I just wish there was an outlet where we could sit Mr. Akin down, present the evidence, and plod through the legal, ethical, and practical implications of his view on abortion and rape.

  5. It would take a lawyer, or someone very familiar with US criminal law around sexual assault to do a proper job on the legal aspects. The other two could be handled with a bit of thought and most likely have been somewhere around the web.

  6. Pingback: Why an abortion rape exception can’t work | PEI Curmudgeon's Blog

  7. Pingback: Why abortion exceptions can’t work | PEI Curmudgeon's Blog

  8. Pingback: Extreme Anti-Abortion Bills | PEI Curmudgeon's Blog

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