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Monday, August 20, 2012

Of Pregnancy and Rape

Republican Todd Akins is in trouble for saying that a woman is less likely to get pregnant as a result of rape then she is at other times of her life.

Everyone is jumping on Akins because he said something wrong. Nobody has really demonstrated exactly what his error is. Either what he said is true or it is not. That is, either raped women get pregnant at lower rates than the general population of sexually active women or they do not.

If he is wrong, then he should apologize.
If he is not, there is no need.

I've heard lots of pro-lifers say the kind of thing Akin just said, but I've never seen the studies that backed it up. So, I thought I would take a look around.

Here's an abstract of a study by the NIMH that indicates "The national rape-related pregnancy rate is 5.0% per rape among victims of reproductive age (aged 12 to 45); among adult women an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year. Among 34 cases of rape-related pregnancy, the majority occurred among adolescents and resulted from assault by a known, often related perpetrator."

(Remember that bit about adolescents, pregnancy and rape. It will be important later.)

So, according to the NIMH, rape has about a 5% chance of causing a pregnancy. OK. Well, how often would a woman typically get pregnant from one act of unprotected sex with someone she wanted to have sex with? According to this study, there is no difference - rape and consensual sex have the same pregnancy rates. But, according to a second study, if you add up all the numbers on the second study's graph in the most generous way over the 28  days of a typical menstrual cycle, you get a figure of about 3.5%.

So, it would appear that rape may actually increase the chance of pregnancy.
Hmmm... before we have poor Mr. Akin apologize, let's think about this a bit.

According to yet another study, the woman's choice to have sexual activity tends to cluster around her most fertile days. In fact, the study hypothesizes that intercourse can stimulate ovulation. Whether or not that hypothesis is true, we know the six days before ovulation are the woman's most fertile days. Having sex on a fertile day vastly increases the probability of pregnancy.

"Yes", I hear you say, "but we're talking about rape, you idiot, which - by definition - the woman doesn't choose."

Well, true. The woman doesn't choose to be raped.
But the man does choose whom to rape.
And we haven't taken that into account.

For instance, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network statistics on rape victims show:
  • 29% are age 12-17.
  • 44% are under age 18.
  • 80% are under age 30.
  • ages 12-34 are the highest risk years.
  • Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
Now, we already know from the previous studies that a woman's fertility begins dropping starting at age 30, and drops like a rock at 35. So does rape. In fact, rapists disproportionately pick fertile females. And we already know that men can tell when a woman is fertile.

So, can rapists tell when a woman is fertile? Do rapists preferentially rape fertile women? Because, if they do, then the rate of pregnancy should be much higher among rape victims than among the general population. And if the pregnancy rate is not appreciably higher, then Mr. Akins is, in fact, correct. That is, if consensual intercourse can stimulate ovulation then it is not unreasonable to assume that rape might reduce ovulation. If rapists chose fertile targets but had a lower-than-expected pregnancy outcome, that might be evidence that rape can inhibit ovulation.

In passing, it should be noted that schools of evolutionary psychology generally support the hypothesis that rapists seek out fertile females.

Now, let's recall the NIMH study above. Most of the pregnancies were (a) in adolescents and (b) by a known perpetrator, that is, someone who might know the adolescent well enough to (un)knowingly recognize the tell-tale signsof fertility.

And, with all that in mind, it looks like the experts being brought in to lambaste Akins are actually inadvertently providing support for what he said. 

Consider Politico's piece. The experts Politico quotes indicate that rape creates about twice the pregnancies of normal intercourse. The experts do admit that this is because rapists target fertile young women. But if rapists were actually targeting fertile young women during their fertile periods - as we know is possible - then the rate of pregnancy should be around 15%, not around 5% or 6%.

To my knowledge, no one has done a study to determine if rapists target fertile women during their most fertile periods, so I can't tell if Akins is wrong, but no one else seems able to prove he's wrong either. And we don't know if women on hormonal contraception (which might well mask pheromone signals) are raped at a different rate than women not taking hormonal contraception. 

So why the brouhaha? 

Obviously, the MSM and the Democrats want to keep pro-life senate hopefuls out of office. So, they start a tempest about Akins because it will score political points. Akins can't clearly back up what he says, and the pro-aborts know it, so all they have to do is keep the focus off the fact that he might actually be right. This is easy enough to do.

The Republicans will go along with it because Mitt doesn't want something this stupid to derail his bid for the Presidency. As Ronald Reagan said, "if you're explaining, you're not winning." Finding out whether Akins is right is not worth the time.

Akins is being thrown under the bus because it's an election year. I suspect that he will end up like Dan Quayle - vindicated far too late for it to do any good. 

Looks like I'm not alone in this estimation.
This article is a nice discussion of the pregnancy problem from a hormonal point of view.
The author points out that high stress is a known cause of infertility - referenced constantly by fertility experts.

So, if the liberals are to be believed, rape is NOT a stressful event in a woman's life.
At least, that would be a fair summary of their argument, given the science.

Overall, it looks like the entire brouhaha has been ginned up by lying liberals in order to make Todd Akin look bad... and the Republican party is willing to go along with it because it would be too difficult to correct the record.

Update II
Some readers are questioning if rapists really target fertile women.
It seems they do,
Oh, and 7% of women are subject to pre-eclampsia... forgot about that.
This doctor says Akin is correct.
Dr. Hilgers also agrees with Akin.


Further evidence that rapists may know when women ovulate, and may therefore seek them out preferentially...


Flambeaux said...

Very well done, sir. Thorough, clear, and concise.

Andrew said...

Just one more thought to stir into your pot:

The stats you posted say 44% of rape victims are under 18. Different states have different laws, I think all have some variety of statutory rape law. Say a 14 year old and a 21 year old have consensual sex. Under the law that's rape. Even more strangely, say that two 13 year old have consensual sex. Under the law in my state...they've BOTH been raped by each other.

What that means is that some portion of what is classifed as rape is in fact legally prohibited consensual sex. It seems likely that this subset of rapes would not carry with it the high stress reaction that reduces the chances of conception that you mention. If that's true, and your other stats are accurate, then the instances of non-consensual rape would have to have an even HIGHER reduction in conception to bring numbers back into line where they are.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Andrew, that's a HECK of a good point. I completely missed the statutory rape/pregnancy aspect.

That's why it's important to distinguish between "forcible rape", aka "legitimate rape", and statutory rape or fake allegation rape.

As I point out in another post, the FBI and the US DOJ report that about 25% of rape allegations are subsequently demonstrated to be false.

The attack on Akins has a lot of elements, but basis in science doesn't appear to be one of them.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Here's a discussion of the difference between "legitimate rape" and some woman who just howls rape because she got pregnant from consensual sex and has decided she's unhappy about that.