“The Female Body Has Ways to Shut That Whole Thing Down”

Slate’s brainy Double X bloggers will have the Todd Akin story covered, I’m sure. But we’ve already learned a great deal from Akin’s comments, and from the late-Sunday information campaign engaged in by political reporters who cover abortion issues.

First, context. Here’s the Akin clip, as sliced by the liberal American Bridge, from a local TV interview.

The most perplexing part of that, sadly enough, isn’t the “legitimate rape” line. Yes, it leaps right off the screen, and it became the hook for (so far) two Democratic fundraising e-mails. (“What exactly, Rep. Akin, is an ‘illegitimate’ rape?” asks Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a DNC e-mail.) But the idea that “forcible rape” is a unique and rare thing that must be legally separated from date rape has been with us for a while. What was Akin talking about, that the “female body” can do to cancel out pregnancies?

The best explanation probably comes from Physicians for Life, via Garance Franke-Ruta.

In an average population, the miscarriage rate is about 15%. In this case, we have incredible emotional trauma. Her body is upset. Even if she conceives, the miscarriage rate will be higher than in a more normal pregnancy. If 20% of raped women miscarry, the figure drops to 450 (or 740). Finally, factor in what is 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 selective use of numbers and citations there probably makes it plain: This is junk science. But more people know about it than knew before Akin explained his rape-pregancy theories.