Akin’s ‘Legitimate’ Rape – Ancient and Medieval Thinking in the 21st Century



Former Rep. Todd Akin / Creative Commons

Of course women get pregnant because of rape, but why do we care four years later anyway? We should care because it is a symptom of our times.

By Yula Flournoy
Former Professor of French and English
Brewminate Contributor

In 2012, Todd Akin1 (former U.S. representative for Missouri’s 2nd congressional district), said that rape does not usually lead to pregnancy, going so far as to claim, “The female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.” At first glance, this seems absurd. Of course women get pregnant because of rape, but why do we care four years later anyway? We should care because it is a symptom of our times. Why do we have political leaders who hold scientific beliefs that were refuted before our country was founded? How do we expect action on dangerous situations if our leaders have no concept of modern scientific theory?

When Akin first made this absurd claim, most overlooked the basis of his belief. The media focused on the term “legitimate”, as if there is some litmus test for whether a rape is legitimate or not. Maybe it has to do with the phase of the moon or whether it was in the city or the country (an important distinction in the Bible that rules over the fate of the woman – Deuteronomy 22:22-29).2

I would argue that the legitimacy has to do with the actual pregnancy and his lack of basic science education. In Western thought, up until the Age of Reason, many people thought conception did not occur unless both the man and the woman achieved orgasm.3 This belief goes back to Hippocrates, who believed a woman’s loins needed to contract and be heated by orgasm in order to seal and thus conceive,4 and it lasted throughout the Middle Ages5 up until the 18th century, when a scientist impregnated an animal manually. Well, at least those versed in science stopped believing the female orgasm was necessary for conception. Apparently, many Republicans need remedial science courses.

While this realization may cause some chuckling and make us feel superior in our knowledge, if we draw this thinking out to its logical conclusion, we end up with some very sick ideas that have major consequences in our society.

If a person believes that both the man and the woman must enjoy the act in order for a pregnancy to result, then that person believes any pregnancy is the result of consensual, mutually enjoyable sex.  The pregnant female is no longer a rape victim: she is a sexually liberated person and must face the consequences of her actions. Her claims of rape must be her trying to cover up her illicit behavior. If she consented to and enjoyed the sex, then she needs to take responsibility and carry the child to term. Once anyone believes this, all sorts of awful things ensue. We must rethink all cases of “so-called” rape and incest. The world’s youngest mother? 5 years old? Raped by her step-father?5 No, she must have liked it. That pregnant victim of a gang-bang?6 Yes, she gets off on those types of things. With just one change, it becomes sickeningly easy to understand why many people object to abortion, even in the case of rape and incest. After all, shouldn’t she have to suffer for enjoying it? With a complete stranger? Her own grandfather?

For people who believe in the scientific method, it is easy to refute this. Indeed, recent studies have shown that women are more liable to become pregnant as a result of rape than as a result of consensual sex.6 It is possible this is due to underreporting rape that does not lead to a pregnancy, but the results are clear:  pregnancy occurs quite regularly as a result of rape.7,8

Perhaps the main reason some people continue to believe in magical wombs is that they don’t believe in the scientific method. These are probably the same people who don’t believe in climate change or in evolution. In many cases, these are leaders, lawmakers, shapers of our society, and they cannot bring themselves to believe in basic science.

Until our politicians become capable of scientific thought and start to question these long-held myths, we are going to keep fighting the same fights. What hope is there if we have well-educated scientists making exciting discoveries when our leaders refuse to listen?

It is a scientific fact, not opinion, that pregnant rape victims deserve our sympathy and support, not our scorn. Conception does not require a female orgasm. Anyone who believes otherwise is woefully mis-educated and should not be leading us anywhere.


  1. Charles Jaco.  “Jaco Report:  Full Interview with Todd Akin.”  Last modified August 20, 2012.  http://fox2now.com/2012/08/19/the-jaco-report-august-19-2012/.
  2. King James Bible Online.  “Deuteronomy Chapter 22.”  http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Deuteronomy-Chapter-22/.
  3. Catherine Blackledge.  The Story of V: A Natural History of Female Sexuality (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2009), 254-255.
  4. Adrian Asis.  “The 10 Youngest Birth Mothers of All time.”  Last modified May 24, 2014.  http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/most-shocking/the-10-youngest-birth-mothers-of-all-time/?view=all.
  5. Jennifer Tucker.  “The Medieval Roots of Todd Akin’s Theories.”  The New York Times.  Last modified August 23, 2012.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/24/opinion/the-medieval-roots-of-todd-akins-theories.html.
  6. Shiva Devnath.  “16-year-old’s Pregnancy Reveals Gang Rape Eight Months Ago.”  Last modified August 17, 2015.  http://www.mid-day.com/articles/16-year-olds-pregnancy-reveals-gang-rape-eight-months-ago/16459182.
  7. M.M. Holmes, H.S. Resnick, D.G. Kilpatrick, and C.L. Best.  “Rape-Related Pregancy: Estimates and Descriptive Characteristics from a National Sample of Women.”  American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 175:2 (320-324).
  8. Glenn Kessler.  “The Claim that the Incidence of Rape Resulting in Pregnancy is ‘Very Low'”.  The Washington Post.  Last modified June 13, 2013.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/the-claim-that-the-incidence-of-rape-resulting-in-pregnancy-is-very-low/2013/06/12/936bc45e-d3ad-11e2-8cbe-1bcbee06f8f8_blog.html.