Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Todd Akin's Misstatement

It turns out that a lot of studies have been published the last few years showing that pregnancy resulting from rape is about as likely (and perhaps even more likely) than pregnancy resulting from consensual sex.  It certainly would not be surprising if the violence associated with rape was traumatic, and interfered with pregnancy, which is what Akin was trying to claim was the situation.  The evidence, however, seems to show otherwise.  So where did Rep. Akin get this idea?

I can remember some years ago reading in a book opposing abortion about a study done in post-World War II Hungary, where invading Soviet troops behaved about as well as they did everywhere else that they invaded, which did indeed find a very low pregnancy rate resulting from rape.  But I find myself suspicious that other factors may have been at play under these circumstances, including nutritional problems.  My guess is that pro-life groups have been pointing to that study because they fundamentally disapprove of abortion, and therefore have been looking for ways to discredit what is one of the exceptions that most Americans are willing to make with respect to abortion.

This is one of the reasons that I try to emphasize to ideologues of all stripes that if you go looking for evidence that backs your position, you will find evidence that backs your position, and you will miss the evidence that doesn't.

UPDATE: Here is a really harrowing paper that may shed some light on the Hungarian study to which I previously referred: Mladen Lončar, Vesna Medved, Nikolina Jovanović, Ljubomir Hotujac, "Psychological Consequences of Rape on Women in 1991-1995 War in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina," Croatian Medical Journal 47:67-75 (2008).  Of their sample of 68 women who were raped, 42.9% became pregnant, although many were subject to repeated daily rapes and gang rapes, hence the very high rate of pregnancy.

Almost half of women got pregnant as a result of rape. Women who were raped once, compared with those repeatedly raped, had seven times higher risk of pregnancy.
The paper also mentions that many of the women were tortured, forced to watch family members killed, and watch other women raped.  This might explain why the women raped once were subject to so much higher pregnancy risk than the ones who were repeated victims. The repeated victims were apparently subject to much more traumatic situations.


  1. I can’t download that AJOG study, but it looks wrong to me. It seems to me that the title and the summary of the abstract are intentionally misleading.

    According to the abstract:

    34 women became pregnant as a result of rape.

    These women were 5% of women in the study who were raped; 34 is 5% of 680.

    The study covered 4,008 women for three years. So – the rape victimization rate among these women was 227/4,008 per year: 5.7%!

    FBI stats say that there were 80,000-90,000 forcible rapes per year from 1990 to 2007, a rate of 60 to 70 per 100,000 women: 0.06-7%.

    That’s a two-orders-of magnitude difference, so something is wrong there.

    The claim of 5% pregnancy rate seems dubious too. In 2007 the combined birth and abortion rate for adult women was (69.5 + 19.5) = 89 / 1000, which is 8.9%. But most of those women were having sex all year long. 5% from a single encounter doesn’t seem reasonable.

    Finally, the claim that 32.2% of the victims chose to bear and raise the child. I would applaud any such heroism, but I can’t believe it’s that common in this day and age.

    What it looks like to me is that the vast majority of these rapes were statutory rapes by neighbors or family step-members or “boyfriends”, or coerced sex by a “boyfriend”, in the course of extended sexual relationships, not one-time forcible rapes.

    Another commenter has noted that the subjects of the study were mostly Medicaid patients; thus, nothing like a representative sample.

    The second study is by a professor of literature and his wife, an economist; that is, people with no biological or medical expertise. The lit professor has done other papers on "Homeric rape" and such; I wonder about his agenda.

    As to the Bosnian study - how was the pregnancy risk calculated for the two groups (raped once, multiple rapes)? It seems highly unlikely that the risk was per woman. In that case the rate in the second group could not be greater than 1 in 7, even if every woman in the first group became pregnant.

    This paper is accessible. So, looking at the numbers. 44 women suffered multiple rapes; 24 were raped once. If the pregnancy rate was per woman, then 23 of the first group of 24 became pregnant, but only 6 of the second group of 44. That's the only way to get a 7-to-1 ratio, and it's not remotely plausible.

    It is far more likely that the rate was calculated per rape; and fairly obviously, successive rapes of the same woman have diminishing chances of impregnation. If 6 of the first group became pregnant, then 23 of the second group did; and they suffered about 650 rapes. (6/24 ~= 7X 23/650.)

    So this study is not quite relevant either. Incidentally, the authors cited the JMOG study's 5% rate uncritically.

    What this incident proves yet again is that a Republican candidate for major office must watch every public word with extreme care and discipline. Any careless statement will be used to crucify him.

  2. The literature is filled with evidence that stress REDUCES fertility... both for ovulation and successful embryo implantation.

    Rape is certainly stressful, it would not be out of line to expect LOWER fertility in the case of rape.

    And the fact remains that abortions from rape make up about 1% of total US abortions.

    Akin simply got too close to the third rail of the new right to kill the unborn, regardless of reason.


    Let's focus on the use of abortion for convenience, as a regular part of contraception and planned parenthood (the concept, not the organization), a certain evil which is making our society more callous towards the idea of the sanctity of life and selfish, not better.

  3. I think I love you Anonymous! Your number analysis is awesome.