Last week, U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, Republican from Marietta, announced that a former colleague who suggested that “legitimate” rape victims rarely become pregnant had been “partially right”.
Here are Gingrey’s remarks to a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, as reported initially in the Marietta Daily Journal:
“Part of the reason the Dems still control the Senate is because of comments made in Missouri by Todd Akin and Indiana by (Richard) Mourdock were considered a little bit over the top. Mourdock basically said ‘Look, if there is conception in the aftermath of a rape, that’s still a child, and it’s a child of God, essentially.’ Now, in Indiana, that cost him the election.
“And in Missouri, Todd Akin, a long-term member of the House of Representatives and a very, VERY good personal friend of mine, was asked by a local news source about rape and he said, ‘Look, in a legitimate rape situation’ — and what he meant by legitimate rape was this, look, someone can say I was raped: a scared-to-death 15-year-old that becomes impregnated by her boyfriend and then has to tell her parents — that’s pretty tough — and might on some occasion say, ‘Hey, I was raped.’ That’s what he meant when he said legitimate rape versus non-legitimate rape.
“I don’t find anything so horrible about that. But then he went on and said that in a situation of rape, of a legitimate rape, a woman’s body has a way of shutting down so the pregnancy would not occur. He’s partly right on that.
“I’m an OB-GYN doctor. I’ve been an OB-GYN doctor for a long time, since 1975. And I’ve delivered lots of babies, and I know about these things. It is true. We tell infertile couples all the time that are having trouble conceiving because of the woman not ovulating, ‘Just relax. Drink a glass of wine. And don’t be so tense and uptight, because all that adrenaline can cause you not to ovulate.’ So he was partially right, wasn’t he? But the fact that a woman may have already ovulated 12 hours before she is raped, you’re not going to prevent a pregnancy there by a woman’s body shutting anything down, because the horse has already left the barn, so to speak. And yet the media took that and tore it apart.”
Not surprisingly, those remarks re-ignited a national controversy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement exposing the bad science behind Gingrey’s claim, noting that “while chronic stress, for example from extreme exposure to famine or war, may decrease a woman’s ability to conceive, there is no scientific evidence that adrenaline, experienced in an acute stress situation, has an impact on ovulation.”
The science — not to mention eons of tragic human history — make it clear that pregnancy through rape is all too common. For example, in a study of 68 victims assaulted as part of mass rape during the Bosnian war, 29 women became pregnant as a result of the attacks and 17 chose abortion to end those pregnancies. As the researchers found, “The decision to have an abortion was strongly predicted by suicidal thoughts and impulses” on the part of the victim. Other studies have documented a pregnancy rate of 5 percent in rapes, producing an estimated 32,000 rape-created pregnancies a year in this country.
(In the horrors of the Bosnian war, women were raped repeatedly and for an extended period of time, sometimes with the avowed goal of impregnation as a means of ethnic humiliation, which may account for the higher pregnancy rate in that instance.)
The next day, Gingrey attempted, implausibly, to back off his clear statement of support, saying that “I do not defend, nor do I stand by, the remarks made by Rep. Akin and Mr. Mourdock. In my attempt to provide context as to what I presumed they meant, my position was misconstrued.” (
You can re-read Gingrey’s initial statement above and judge for yourself whether it was misconstrued. (In his initial comments, he did go on to say that “I’m not standing up here defending people saying stupid things.”) But more importantly, you can and should judge Gingrey and his colleagues by their actions.
Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia introduced “The Sanctity of Human Life Act,” co-sponsored by Gingrey, U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia and recent GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, among others. The bill (text available here) declares that “the life of each human being begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent, irrespective of sex, health, function or disability, defect, stage of biological development, or condition of dependency, at which time every human being shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood.”
Should such absolutist legislation become law, an embryo conceived in rape would “have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood,” and a rape victim who sought an abortion would become guilty of attempted murder. There is no rape exception in the legislation, because there is no exception in the mindset that created it. A rape victim should just “man up” and deal with it.
That’s the bottom line of this discussion; that’s what makes this whole affair much more important than just another congressman saying something offensive.
I agree that as a matter of logic and principle, it is plausible to argue that even an embryo conceived in rape has the right to life. “Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen,” as Mourdock put it in a debate last fall. Yet for many Americans, the real-life implications of that theoretically tidy position are absolutely unacceptable. It would mean that rape victims would be required by law and government edict to carry the product of rape for nine months and then to endure the pain of birth.
Many women — let me correct that, many people of both genders — see that as almost a second rape, a second instance in which control of a woman’s life and body is stripped from her involuntarily and she is reduced to an unwilling breeding machine. And we are not going back to those days.
– Jay Bookman