Rape and pregnancy controversies in United States elections, 2012
During the 2012 United States election cycle, in federal and state elections, a series of controversies arose as a result of statements by Republican Party candidates about rape, pregnancy, contraception, abortion, and related topics. The first and most widely covered controversy concerned Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri. He stated that pregnancy rarely occurs as a result of what he called "legitimate rape". Many women's rights groups found the idea that pregnancy does not result from rape, as well as the phrase, "legitimate rape", demeaning. Akin's comments had a far-reaching political impact, changing the focus of political campaigns across the country to the so-called War on Women. Akin was eventually denounced by politicians in both the Republican and Democratic Party, most prominently by presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.
Following Akin's comments, additional controversies arose concerning other remarks made by various Republicans. The most notable of these was Indiana State Treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who said that pregnancy from rape was "something that God intended." Some analysts identified Mourdock's and Akin's comments, as well as those of various other candidates, as a principal factor in their election losses. The comments may have had an effect on the national election results, especially as many women voters supported Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Some American pro-life activists favor the medically inaccurate[n 1] contention that pregnancy is less likely or does not result from rape. This idea originated with Fred Mecklenburg in 1972. While serving as assistant clinical professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Mecklenburg published an article entitled "The Indications for Induced Abortion: A Physician's Perspective". In the article he advanced three reasons for the near absence of pregnancy in instances of rape. He contended that during the act of rape sexual intercourse is not always successfully completed; the probability of rape coinciding with a woman's ovulation period is low; and rape induced trauma impedes ovulation.
Despite the fact that it has not been validated scientifically, the idea that trauma might function as a form of birth control has been significant for some anti-abortion activists attempting to secure an unqualified ban on abortion. For example, the former President of the National Right to Life Committee and physician John C. Willke argued in a 1985 text that the female body, when undergoing rape, can physiologically prevent conception. Revisiting the claim in a 1999 article, published in the Life Issues Connector, Willke stated, "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." Willke, whose 1999 article has been posted on a pro-life website, opined in August 2012 that rape, "is a traumatic thing" and women undergoing rape are: "frightened, tight and so on. And sperm, if deposited in her vagina, are less likely to be able to fertilize. The tubes are spastic."
Moreover, this claim has been made by several pro-life politicians. In 1975, Republican Senator Dewey F. Bartlett, tabling an ultimately unsuccessful legislative amendment to withdraw state funding for abortions, claimed: "A person who is raped very seldom becomes pregnant. Statistics show it is very rare." Pennsylvania state representative Stephen Freind said in 1988 that the odds of a pregnancy resulting from rape were "one in millions and millions and millions." James Leon Holmes published a letter in 1980 stating, "concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami".
Statements on rape and pregnancy continued in the 1990s. In 1995, North Carolina House of Representatives member Henry Aldridge said during a debate to eliminate a state abortion fund for poor women: "The facts show that people who are raped—who are truly raped—the juices don't flow, the body functions don't work and they don't get pregnant. Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever." In 1998, Arkansas state senator Fay Boozman lost a campaign for a US Senate seat after remarking that fear-induced hormonal changes made rape victims unlikely to become pregnant.
Todd Akin: "legitimate rape" 
Todd Akin, a long-time anti-abortion activist, served as a Republican member of the House of Representatives for Missouri's 2nd congressional district from 2001 until 2013. On 7 August 2012, Akin won the Republican primary to become his party's nominee for the U.S. Senate elections in Missouri. Less than two weeks later, on August 19, Akin asserted that victims of what he termed "legitimate rape" rarely become pregnant. He made these remarks in an interview aired on the St. Louis television station KTVI-TV when asked whether women who are raped and become pregnant should have the option of abortion. He replied:
Well you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.
Akin's comments almost immediately led to uproar; the term "legitimate rape" was assumed to imply that some types of rape are "legitimate", or alternatively that rape victims who become pregnant are likely to be lying about their claim. Akin's comments were widely seen as being based on long-discredited pseudoscience; experts said the claims lacked any medical validity. Senior figures in both parties condemned his remarks and some called for him to resign his seat or abandon his Senate candidacy. He stated that by "legitimate rape" he meant "forcible rape", stating, "I was talking about forcible rape...I used the wrong word".
Akin apologized after making the comment, saying he "misspoke", and that he planned to remain in the Senate race. This response was itself attacked by many commentators. Akin's congressional record showed support for limits to abortion, such as co-sponsoring a bill that would make abortion illegal even in the case of rape.
Akin responded to the comments by issuing a press release stating:
As a member of Congress, I believe that working to protect the most vulnerable in our society is one of my most important responsibilities, and that includes protecting both the unborn and victims of sexual assault. In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year. Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve.
On August 21, he issued a television commercial in which he said:
Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize. As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault, and I pray for them. The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The truth is, rape has many victims. The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.
In relation to the resulting furor over his original "legitimate rape" comment, Akin said: "I talk about one word, one sentence, one day out of place, and, all of a sudden, the entire establishment turns on you."
Akin's remarks were strongly condemned by senior Republicans. The party's presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, said they were "inexcusable, insulting, and frankly, wrong", and called for Akin to step down; Paul Ryan, Romney's vice presidential nominee, echoed this call. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) said that "if he continues with this misguided campaign, it will be without the support and resources of the NRSC." Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Akin's remarks were "totally inexcusable" and "wildly offensive". Conservative commentators Sean Hannity, Charles Krauthammer, and Mark Levin called for Akin to step aside, as did the editorial teams of the Wall Street Journal and National Review, nine sitting US Senators, and four former Republican senators from Missouri, including John Danforth, Kit Bond, James Talent and John Ashcroft, and serving Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt. Fellow Republican Congressmen and Senate hopefuls Jeff Flake and Denny Rehberg also called for Akin's resignation. The Republican Political Action Committee American Crossroads announced it would cut off all aid to Akin's candidacy. Immediately after the comment, Scott Ross of NBC said that Akin's comments affected his Senate candidacy.
Republicans made multiple calls for Akin to step down as nominee. The Washington Post reported a "stampede" of Republicans dissociating from Akin as a means of damage control. NRSC chairman John Cornyn said the Republican Party would no longer provide Akin with Senate election funding and that Akin was "endangering Republicans' hopes of retaking the majority in the Senate". In August, when the comments were made, Nate Silver gave the Republicans over a 60 percent chance of gaining a majority in the Senate. During the crisis, Republican party officials were reported as stating that Akin's remarks had shifted "the national discussion to divisive social issues that could repel swing voters rather than economic issues that could attract them in a climate of high unemployment and stumbling recovery". A campaign spokesman for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan said both candidates disagreed with Akin's position and would not oppose abortion in instances of rape. According to Politico, Ryan telephoned Akin to advise him to step aside. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus warned Akin not to attend the upcoming 2012 Republican convention and said he should resign the nomination. He described Akin's comments as "biologically stupid" and "bizarre" and said that, "This is not mainstream talk that he's referring to and his descriptions of whatever an illegitimate rape is. We're hoping he hears [these calls to drop out of the race]".
Akin was defended by some social conservative organizations, including the Family Research Council. A spokesman for the Council said that "We feel this is a case of gotcha politics ... We know who Todd Akin is. We've worked with him up on the hill. He's a defender of life." A representative of the American Family Association cited Willke's 1999 article to argue Akin "was exactly right". In response to Republican demands that Akin resign, Personhood USA spokeswoman Jennifer Mason said that Akin's position "is an integral part of the Republican Party platform, the same position that was held by President Ronald Reagan" and that "[we] are left with Reagan Republicans, who agree with the Republican Party platform on abortion, and Romney Republicans, a fringe group of liberals who compromise on human life." Mike Huckabee supported Akin by soliciting donations for his Senate campaign and accused the "Republican establishment" of a "carefully orchestrated and systematic attack."
Iowa Republican congressman Steve King supported Akin during the controversy, saying that Akin "is a strong Christian man, with a wonderful family. King answered a question regarding Medicaid's coverage for abortions for victims of rape and incest, saying "I just haven't heard of that being a circumstance that's been brought to me in any personal way, and I'd be open to discussion about that subject matter." King's comments elicited condemnation from multiple sources, and others noted their similarity to Akin's remarks.
President Barack Obama responded to Akin's comments by saying "Rape is rape ... And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we're talking about doesn't make sense to the American people and certainly doesn't make sense to me." Akin's opponent in the Senate campaign, Senator Claire McCaskill, stated that, "It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape". Democratic members also started a petition to remove him as a member of the science committee.
Despite intense pressure to step aside, Akin resolved to remain in the race. On The Sean Hannity Show, he stated he, "was calling you and letting you know that I'm announcing today that we're [staying] in." On the Mike Huckabee Show he said, "Rape is never legitimate ... I used the wrong words in the wrong way." A national poll conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion showed that 84% of Americans disagreed with Akin's comments about "legitimate rape", and that 63% wanted him to drop out of the U.S. Senate race.
Akin's comments were widely thought to be the main reason he lost the senatorial election. Exit polls reported that 64% of voters said that Akin's comment was important in their voting decision, and among those voters 74% vote for Claire McCaskill while 18% voted for Akin. According to Jennifer Haberkorn of Politico, Akin lost his election bid because of a backlash from women voters. A poll released on August 23 by Rasmussen Reports showed a steep drop in support for Akin among Missouri voters; McCaskill led Akin in this poll by roughly 10 points. Akin had earlier been in the lead. Akin's comments encouraged new debates on the supposed Republican "War on Women". Political analysts drew attention to Akin's co-sponsorship of anti-abortion bills with vice presidential candidate Ryan, and the Obama campaign tried to link Paul Ryan to Akin's remarks. James Rowley of Businessweek wrote that the incident had drawn attention to the Republican Party's advocacy for a total ban on abortion. According to Charles Babington of the Associated Press, Huckabee attacked establishment Republicans for demanding Akin's resignation.
Richard Mourdock: "something that God intended" 
On October 23, 2012, about two months after Todd Akin's comments, Richard Mourdock, the Indiana State Treasurer and 2012 Republican Senate nominee, became embroiled in a similar controversy when he stated that pregnancy from rape was "something God intended". Mourdock had defeated six term incumbent U.S. Senator Richard Lugar in the May 2012 Republican primary election with support from the Tea Party movement. During the final debate, while explaining his opposition to abortion even in the case of rape, he stated:
I know there are some who disagree and I respect their point of view but I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother. I just struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize: Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.
The day after the debate, Mourdock issued a statement that, "God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does. Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick." He later said at a press conference, "I believe God controls the universe. I don't believe biology works in an uncontrolled fashion."
On October 22, a television commercial showing Governor Mitt Romney (the Republican nominee for United States President) supporting Mourdock began to air in Indiana. The Romney campaign subsequently issued a statement saying, "Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock's comments, and they do not reflect his views," but it did not stop the commercial. Senator John Cornyn, chairman of the NRSC, said, "Richard and I, along with millions of Americans—including even Joe Donnelly—believe that life is a gift from God. To try and construe his words as anything other than a restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous."
Many Republicans publicly called for Mourdock to apologize for the statement. Senator McCain called for him to issue an apology, and said his support for Mourdock's campaign "depends on what he does." Senator Scott Brown refused to state that he supported Mourdock in the election. Republican Representative Mike Pence urged Mourdock to apologize, and said in a statement, "I strongly disagree with the statement made by Richard Mourdock during last night's Senate debate". Responding to a question on Mourdock's comment, President Obama said on the Tonight Show, "Rape is rape. It is a crime," and, "These various distinctions about rape don't make too much sense to me." Dan Parker, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, immediately criticized Mourdock, and said that, "I'm stunned and ashamed that Richard Mourdock believes God intended rape", and that he is an "extremist" who is out of touch with Indiana.
Other controversial statements 
Roscoe Bartlett 
||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (May 2013)|
On August 30, 2012, Roscoe Bartlett, a ten-term Republican Congressman from Maryland, was asked to clarify his position on abortion at a town hall meeting. He stated that very few pregnancies result from rape or incest, in comparison to the total number of rapes or cases of incest. The exchange was:
Bartlett: Oh, life of the mother—exception of life of the mother, rape and incest ... there are very few pregnancies as a result of rape, fortunately, and incest—compared to the usual abortion, what is the percentage of abortions for rape? It is tiny. It is a tiny, tiny percentage.;Audience member: There's 20,000 pregnancies every year from rape.;Bartlett: Yeah, and how many abortions? In the millions." ;Another audience member: That's 20,000 rapes. That's 20,000 people who are violated.;Bartlett: Yeah, I know, I know. But in terms of the percentage of pregnancies, percentage of abortions for rape as compared to overall abortions, it's a tiny, tiny percentage.
Multiple sources equated this to Akin's comments, and this resulted in political attacks on Bartlett. The Democratic Congressional Committee Campaign targeted Bartlett with automated telephone calls that stated, "Republicans like your Congressman Roscoe Bartlett share some of these radical, right-wing beliefs—that the government should take away a woman's access to making informed decisions about her own pregnancy". Bartlett lost his bid for re-election to the Democratic challenger John Delaney.
Tom Smith 
Following Todd Akin's comments, the Pennsylvania Press Club asked Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Tom Smith on August 27, 2012, about his no-exceptions anti-abortion stance, and whether he supported Akin's comments. The club asked how he would tell a daughter or granddaughter who had been raped that she must keep the pregnancy. Smith said that he had been in a similar situation because his daughter had become pregnant out of wedlock. He tried to withdraw his statement, saying that he was not equating the two situations, but that "a father's position" was similar. The comments were compared to Akin's comments. Salon magazine said, "If you believe pregnancy from rape and pregnancy from sex out of marriage are "similar," then you implicitly believe that the problem with rape is that it's non-sanctioned sexual activity, as opposed to a crime against a woman's person." He lost the Senate race to Sen. Bob Casey.
Roger Rivard 
Wisconsin State Assembly member Roger Rivard became the subject of controversy in October 2012 because of comments he had made to the Chetek Alert in December 2011.[n 2] In the interview, Rivard was discussing the case of a high school senior who was being prosecuted for the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl. Rivard said that years before, his father had warned him that, "Some girls rape easy". In October 2012, Rivard told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that his earlier remark was being taken out of context and misquoted, and that his father had told him that after agreeing to sex and becoming pregnant, some underage girls will claim the sex was not consensual. Following the widespread dissemination of Rivard's comment, some prominent Wisconsin Republicans, including vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, Governor Scott Walker and State Representative Robin Vos, withdrew their endorsements of Rivard. Rivard lost his re-election bid to Stephen Smith. 
Joe Walsh 
On October 18, 2012, Republican Representative Joe Walsh said that due to "advances in science and technology", an abortion is no longer necessary to save the life of the mother. He stated, "there is no such exception as life of the mother, and as far as health of the mother, same thing". The following day, Walsh stated that situations where "both mother and baby will die if the baby is not aborted" are "very rare," but he supported "medical procedures for women during their pregnancies that might result in the loss of the unborn child" in such cases. Walsh lost re-election to Tammy Duckworth.
John Koster 
John Koster, a Republican congressional candidate in Washington's 1st District, was asked after a campaign fundraiser on October 28, 2012, about his position that abortion should only be available in cases where the life of the mother is in danger. He was asked about rape and incest exceptions. He said, "Incest is so rare, I mean, it's so rare...But the rape thing—you know, I know a woman who was raped and kept the child, gave it up for adoption, and she doesn't regret it." He added, "On the rape thing, it's like, how does putting more violence onto a woman's body and taking the life of an innocent child that's a consequence of this crime—how does that make it better? You know what I mean?" His comments caused local and national controversy. US News and World Report connected Koster's comments to Akin and Mourdock's by saying, "The [Republican] insults may also have an ironic backlash. Ryan, Akin, Mourdock, and Koster are poster boys for the need for more women in Congress, so Republican attacks on women may mean the election of more women." Koster acknowledged that his comments may have caused him to lose the election in Washington's most competitive district.
Post election comments 
Several comments after the election were compared to the comments made during the election cycle. For example, Rep Phil Gingrey, who is also an OB-GYN, said Akin's comments were "partly right" when he said women's bodies can avoid pregnancy in cases of rape. He continued to state that he "delivered lots of babies" and "[knew] about these things"  Gingrey also said he didn't find anything wrong with distinguishing "legitimate rape" from non-legitimate rape, which he defined as a false accusation. Commenting on former Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock's unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid, Gingrey said, "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." His office released a statement that said, "In my attempt to provide context as to what I presumed they meant, my position was misconstrued."
Joe Salazar, a Democratic representative in the Colorado State House of Representatives, generated controversy during a floor debate over a bill that would ban concealed-carry in Colorado colleges. Salazar argued that there were other measures to keep students safe. He said, "call boxes... safe zones... [and] whistles" would serve a similar functions. He continued, "you don't know, if you feel like you're going to be raped, or if you feel like someone's been following you around, or if you feel like you're in trouble, and when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you pop around that somebody". Conservatives and Republicans sharply criticized Salazar for the comments, interpreting them as meaning a woman might know not if she is being raped, and argued the comments were similar to Akin's 'legitimate rape' comments. Salazar responded by stating he was trying to express the opinion that an armed woman on a college campus could feel threatened, potentially misjudge someone's intentions, and shoot at them in error, and apologized for the "inartful" remarks.
Wider impact 
The overall response to the comments and controversies was negative, and some blamed the controversies for Republican losses during the election. American political consultant and policy advisor Karl Rove, in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, wrote, "Offensive comments about rape by [Republican] Senate candidates in Missouri and Indiana gave the media an excuse to put social issues at the election's center in a way that badly hurt the entire party, as well as costing Republicans two Senate seats." On the federal level, the controversies were cited as causing or contributing to the defeats of Akin, Mourdock, Smith and Koster.
In an article in Salon, Joan Walsh wrote "suddenly Americans had to try to imagine how doctors or hospital administrators or law enforcement officials would decide what was 'legitimate rape,' as opposed to something else. Rape panels?" The conservative blog Hot Air linked Akin's remarks to a positive ten percent shift in US public opinion polls toward supporting legalizing abortion in all circumstances.
The comments also were credited with helping President Obama win the women's vote. Karen Hughes, a former George W. Bush adviser wrote in Politico, "And if another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue. The college-age daughters of many of my friends voted for Obama because they were completely turned off by Neanderthal comments like the suggestion of 'legitimate rape.'" According to exit polls, 55% of women and 45% of men voted for Obama, and 44% of women and 52% of men voted for Romney. Comments from otherwise low profile candidates, such as Rep. Todd Akin, may have cost Mitt Romney the election and reinforced for some voters concerns that the GOP is out of touch with women.
The controversies caused the Republican Party to look for ways to stop its election candidates from making similar comments about rape. Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist and senior adviser to the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, said, "This is actually pretty simple. If you're about to talk about rape as anything other than a brutal and horrible crime, stop," Anti-abortion lobby groups, such as the Susan B. Anthony List, launched training programs to prevent controversial statements on rape and abortion. Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway told Republican members of the House of Representatives that rape is a "four-letter word," and Republicans need to avoid discussing it.
Explanatory notes 
- Any female capable of ovulation may become pregnant after rape by a fertile male. Rape causes tens of thousands of women to become pregnant each year. In a three-year longitudinal study of 4,000 American women, physician Melisa Holmes found that forced sexual intercourse causes over 32,000 pregnancies in the United States each year. That study revealed a pregnancy rate among women aged 12–45 of 5% of rapes and 6% of victims. A 1987 study also found a 5% pregnancy rate from rape of 18- to 24-year-old higher education students in the US. A 2005 study places the rape-related pregnancy rate at around 3–5%. Physician Felicia H. Stewart and economist James Trussell estimated that 333,000 assaults and rapes reported in the US in 1998 caused about 25,000 pregnancies, and that up to 22,000 of those pregnancies could have been prevented by prompt medical treatment, such as emergency contraception. A study of Ethiopian adolescents who reported being raped found that 17% subsequently became pregnant, and rape crisis centres in Mexico reported the figure at 15–18%. Estimates of rape-related pregnancy rates may be low since the crime is under-reported, so some pregnancies from rape are not recorded as such.
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