Todd Akin is sorry that he was sorry

Please, Republicans, welcome this man back into the fold, and make him a mouthpiece for the party. We are happy to see you drive women out of your camp. Todd Akin thinks there’s still a legitimate concern about legitimate rape.

"When a woman claims to have been raped, the police determine if the evidence supports the legal definition of ‘rape,’" Akin writes. "Is it a legitimate claim of rape or an excuse to avoid an unwanted pregnancy? Are the police warranted to take action against a crime or not?"

"In short, the word ‘legitimate’ modifies the claim and not the action. There have been women who have lied about being raped, as Norma McCorvey did before the U.S. Supreme Court. The infamous Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 was based on a lie."

"My comment about a woman’s body shutting the pregnancy down," Akin adds in the book, "was directed to the impact of stress on fertilization. This is something fertility doctors debate and discuss. Doubt me? Google ‘stress and fertilization,’ and you will find a library of research on the subject."

Yes, sometimes women are bad and ignorant and dishonest, just like men. Sometimes people lie about being robbed in order to get the insurance money, too; that doesn’t mean we have such a cynical view of humanity that we dismiss all claims of theft as fraudulent.

I found his last challenge interesting, though. But don’t go to Google — that’s wide open and leads to a lot of garbage. I did his search on PubMed. It returns about 1500 peer reviewed papers on the subject, but the problem is that ‘stress’ has a rather specific meaning in biology, and it’s not about transient terror — it’s about relatively long-term metabolic changes. It’s also a big database, so it covers everything — plants, mice, insects, etc. So I narrowed the search to just humans, which gives me 136 results. That is not very impressive.

I browsed through them all. Some looked interesting:there’s stuff on the role of follicular antioxidants, how serotonergic modulation affects the stress response in zebrafish (they mention modulators developed for human research — they’re giving Prozac to fish larvae), issues in treating Jehovah’s Witnesses with in vitro fertilization, heat stress and DNA repair in sperm production, lots of stuff about oxidative stress, and surprising numbers of papers about the effects of stress on sperm in general. I guess sperm are just easier to work with. Maybe Akin should be arguing that stressed-out rapists are firing blanks? Nah, the research doesn’t support that, either.

I found one relevant paper in my search: Stress and anxiety do not result in pregnancy wastage, by Milad, Klock, Moses, and Chatterton, published in 1998. They were looking at the effects of the psychologically stressful process of IVF on fertility clinic patients. It has a small n of 40, so it’s not entirely conclusive, but the abstract concludes:

In conclusion, there is little association between psychological scores and physiological stress hormone concentrations. Also, it does not appear that high levels of anxiety and stress result in an adverse pregnancy outcome.

Again, these are studies of long term stress — we know there are effects of overwork, worry, lack of sleep, poor diet, and fear that cause metabolic changes in the body that can reduce the likelihood of reproduction. But that’s a far cry from suggesting that a single psychologically traumatic event can instantly shut down ovaries and prevent pregnancy, like a switch.

Also, a search on PubMed on the subject of stress and pregnancy turns up many more papers. It’s easy to conflate the two issues, and it’s certainly the case that metabolic changes occur and can affect pregnancy. But it’s also easy to send people off on a wild goose chase on a complex topic to confuse them.

So far, I haven’t found any peer-reviewed papers that support the Akin Hypothesis. I probably need to dig deeper into fringe journals.


  1. Anri says

    Look, PZ, so long as you restrict your research to scientific journals, you’ll fall victim to reality’s well-known liberal bias. To have a fair and balanced picture, you need to take into account all of the ideas that feel right, regardless of their connection to that silly ol’ the way things actually are stuff.

    “You got your reality on my worldview!”
    “You got your worldview in my reality!”

    (Note – above post may contain sarcasm – read at own risk.)

  2. dianne says

    I don’t know, PZ. I think using actual data and reference to real scientific findings might be cheating.

  3. says

    I’m beginning to see a pattern developing among the GOP and Teapublicans: Women are crazy, like demented men. They can’t be trusted. Because they’re not men. See?

  4. HolyPinkUnicorn says

    My comment about a woman’s body shutting the pregnancy down, Akin adds in the book, was directed to the impact of stress on fertilization.

    I sure hope stress in the short term doesn’t affect fertility, because I get stressed every time Akin opens his fucking mouth. I’m straining just to keep from punching my monitor after reading that last quote.

  5. barbaz says

    So, if I understand correcly, Todd Akin’s argument boils down to “If she got pregnant, she must have enjoyed it”? Gee, I’ve never heard that before…

  6. anteprepro says

    Even if long-term stress was associated with lowered fertility, Akin’s original claim was that the trauma from the rape itself would prevent a woman from getting pregnant from it. STRESS DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY. Slimy fuck.

    Lowered fertility is actually associated with malnutrition. If Dr. Akin were on the case, he would say that the best method of birth control would be skip meals for a day before having sex. Because he is a fucking idiot who cares little about facts and cares even less about the effects his idiocy has on women.

  7. Big Boppa says

    Pardon the ignorance of an old English major, but what does

    a small n of 40


    Also, too. Does anyone else read the name PubMed and think that it sounds like a great place to hoist a pint while on vacation?

  8. anteprepro says

    Oh yeah, and his “legitimate rape” spiel STILL results in dismissing actual rapes as Not Rape if the woman can’t prove it to the satisfaction of the court. It has the effect of STILL implying that rape victims who can’t win a court case are lying for some fucking bizarre, nefarious ends. Also this “Roe v. Wade was decided on a lie” bullshit seems to be typical dishonest Republican bullshit: the fact that the plaintiff claimed to be raped didn’t seem to be a major point in the rationale for the Roe v. Wade ruling. I mean, fuck, by the time of the ruling she had already given birth. The ruling was all about general principles, and it wasn’t really about her specific case, ultimately.

    Fucking Republicans.

  9. Pteryxx says

    Big Boppa #8 – “a small n of 40” means only 40 persons were studied in the paper, which is such a small number it’s difficult to draw statistically significant conclusions.

    [TW for rape, war and forced pregnancy]

    Obviously Akin and the other slut-shaming apologists don’t believe that pregnancy from rape is a thing (PubMed link) because by definition, all those must’ve been not-real rapes. Looking at real evidence from the less clinical, more horrible direction… if raping people meant their bodies could just shut down any resulting pregnancies, then why does ethnic cleansing and genocide through wartime rape and forced pregnancy exist? Were all those victims just not stressed out enough?

    Quoted from wiki:

    During the 1992–95 Bosnian War, pregnancy from rape was used to perpetrate genocide. There were reports of deliberately created “rape camps” intended to impregnate captive Muslim and Croatian women. Women were reported to have been kept in confinement until their pregnancies had advanced beyond a stage at which abortion would be safe.[45] In the context of a patrilineal society, in which children inherit their father’s ethnicity, such camps were intended to create a new generation of Serbian children.[45] The women’s group Tresnjevka claimed that more than 35,000 women and children were held in such Serb-run camps.[46][47][48] Estimates range from 20,000[49] to 50,000[50] victims.[51][52][53]

    Apparently the belief that women have to enjoy sex to conceive goes back to Galen, and was codified into medieval European laws.

    Medieval literary scholar Corinne Saunders acknowledged a difficulty in determining how widely held was the belief that pregnancy implies consent, but concluded that it influenced “at least some justices”, citing a 1313 case in Kent.[75]

    By the late 1700s, scientists no longer universally accepted the view that pregnancy was impossible without pleasure, although this view was still common.[76]

    So Akin’s still got his head at least 300 years up his backside.

  10. busterggi says

    As Akin issued a fake apology for his initial statement I suspect his apology for his fake apology is also fake.

  11. Chris J says

    How exactly is a claim of rape an “excuse to avoid an unwanted pregnancy”?

    Or should we take his old statement of “in a legitimate rape, the woman’s body has ways of shutting the whole thing down,” sub in his claim that “legitimate” referred to the claim and not the act, and come up with “Oh no, I got pregnant when I didn’t want to! Don’t worry, if I claim I was raped hard enough, my body will stop the pregnancy!”


  12. magistramarla says

    Correct me if this is wrong, but doesn’t long-term stress affect ovulation?
    Therefor, if a normal, unstressed woman happens to be in the part of her cycle in which she has ALREADY ovulated when she is raped, stress couldn’t possibly stop that ovulation.

  13. mikeym says

    It’s too late for the GOP to welcome Akin back. He was welcomed back in October 2012 as soon as it became clear he wouldn’t step aside for the general election. Welcomed back to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars.

  14. Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive] says

    Chris J:

    How exactly is a claim of rape an “excuse to avoid an unwanted pregnancy”?

    Because anti-abortion legislation in the US is required carry exemptions for three scenarios:
    (1) rape (i.e. the woman is pregnant because she was raped)
    (2) incest (i.e. the woman is pregnant because of incest)
    (3) the life of the mother (i.e. the mother will die if she carries to term).

    Akin is attacking the first exemption on the grounds that it is unnecessary and abused by sluts. This, nowadays, is a popular meme amongst the diehard anti-choicers, who argue that either (1) the definition of “rape” is needlessly broad by including anything other than the mythological big-black-man-drags-screaming-white-virgin-into-a-dark-alley (yes, really, they argue this) or (2) women don’t get pregnant from rape. Akin, as you see, chose the second door. This, of course, also attacks the second exemption, as of course, if a girl or woman is a victim of incest she’s only really a victim if she was appropriately virginal and pathetic – otherwise she was a conniving slut.

  15. robro says

    Esteleth — You’ve touched on something that I’ve been wondering about: Is he blowing his racial dog whistle, as well as his sexist dog whistle? It seems that race is never far from the surface with these guys.

  16. Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive] says

    Maybe? I’m not seeing a racist dogwhistle (I mean, aside from the “it isn’t rape if a white man does it to his own possessions wife”), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The whole point of dogwhistles is that they’re unheard outside of the target audience.

  17. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    How exactly is a claim of rape an “excuse to avoid an unwanted pregnancy”?

    Presumably because people are less shitty about allowing abortions for women who are “victims of rape or incest.”

  18. Irreverend Bastard says

    an excuse to avoid an unwanted pregnancy

    Well, if the wingnuts hadn’t made it so bloody difficult to get abortions (and even contraception!), perhaps females didn’t have to file “false rape claims”.

    Remove all restrictions on abortions, and nobody would file a false rape claim in order to get a legal (and safe!) abortion.

  19. twas brillig (stevem) says

    Akin’s buddy in pseudoscience:

    Bob Frey is a Republican running for the Minnesota House of Representatives, and he’s worried about the economic cost of sodomy. He’s not against gay people, mind you — the problem, he explained yesterday, has to do with the way sperm burns our anal cavities.

    It turns out that Frey has a longstanding theory that sperm extrude a “burning” enzyme that’s only neutralized when the sperm meets an egg. When sperm are running around loose in somebody’s anus, they burn everything and cause AIDS.

    This somewhat supports Akin’s claim that rape sperm can be blocked by the victim’s egg. It just thickens that barrier to keep them out…
    I saw one “anti” comment ask, “HIV & AIDS?” I’ll just run with his pseudo-science and say that he’ll say that the HIV is a _result_ of AIDS, not the cause of it. That the little burninators and the anal flesh react to produce HIV’s, along with killing one’s immune systems. And that’s why “everyday scientists” assumed, by seeing HIV consistently associated with AIDS victims, that they immediately jumped to that mistaken conclusion: declaring HIV the cause of AIDS; and didn’t even consider the more direct cause.

    So this Frey ain’t opposing gay love, just anal sex. Are women ‘receivers’ equally victimized by AIDS as ghey menz?
    Bob Frey is a Republican running for the Minnesota House of Representatives
    Keep running Bob (out the door). Do somethin, PZ, with your Cthulhu given powers, your squidly fists should be able to keep this lune from representing you in the Minn House [pun intended. min house =/= min brain].