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Dr. Jen Gunter

Dr. Jennifer Gunter is a nationally and internationally renowned obstetrician/gynecologist.

August 21st, 2012 8:25 AM

Did Todd Akin get his misinformation on rape and pregnancy from Physicians for Life?

By now everyone knows that Congressman Todd Akin (Missouri’s 2nd District) thinks some rapes are legitimate and some are, well, apparently not legitimate. We also know that “what he understands from doctors” is that pregnancy from legitimate rape is “really rare” because women can block unwanted pregnancies through a stress response (“shut the whole thing down,” is the actual quote). But just who are these physicians feeding him this misinformation?

My guess is The Physicians for Life. So, I took a little gander at their website

Here is a direct quote from the Physicians for Life, “Assault rape pregnancies are extremely rare.” The number they come up with is 500 “assault rape” pregnancies/year (yes, Physicians for Life apparently feel the need to qualify only some rapes as “assault,” which they use interchangeably with “forced rape”).

Screen shot from Physicians for Life website, Aug. 20, 2012

In addition, Physicians for Life also believe that: “…certainly one of the most important reasons why a rape victim rarely gets pregnant, and that’s psychic trauma. Every woman is aware that stress and emotional factors can alter her menstrual cycle. To get and stay pregnant a woman’s body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones. Hormone production is controlled by a part of the brain that is easily influenced by emotions. There’s no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape. This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, and implantation.”

The Physicians for Life site quotes 3 sources, only one is original research. The one article was authored by Goth and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 1977 (yes, 1977) and in NO WAY SUPPORTS THE NOTION THAT RAPES ARE RARE OR THAT THE STRESS RESPONSE LOWERS THE PREGNANCY RATE. It is an article about sexual dysfunction among rapists. Put another way, the Physicians for Life have not provided a single published article to support their claims. Interestingly, Physicians for Life also promote the long disproven claim that abortion causes breast cancer.

There are obvious difficulties in studying rape outcomes as “only 16 to 38% of rape victims report the rape to law enforcement, and only 17 to 43% present for medical evaluation after rape; one-third of victims of rape never report the assault to their primary care doctor.” (NEJM  2011). However, a scientific estimate (i.e. from research) is between 25,000 and 32,000 pregnancies from rape a year in the United States (American Journal Obstetrics and Gynecology 1996 and American Journal of Preventative Medicine 2000).

Just to put those numbers into perspective, about 22,000 women a year in the United States develop ovarian cancer. No one thinks that’s rare. About 32,000 American women get melanoma every year (American Cancer Society, 2012). No one thinks that’s rare either.

According to the current medical evidence, pregnancy resulting from rape is not rare. There is also no research to back up the asinine belief that rape induced “psychic trauma” prevents pregnancy.

The Physicians for Life website seems to be a set of crib notes for Congressman Akin (and many others) on all things pertaining to the female reproductive system, something that is not even the business of a politician. To have physicians promote evidence-baseless beliefs that are lapped up and then trotted out to promote the agenda of a politician (one who sits on the House Committee of Science, Space, and Technology, no less) is certainly not my idea of a timeless principle.

It would be laughable if it were not all so malignant.

 

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