It’s rare you see interesting science involved in political kerfuffles. Thus, I was intrigued at the controversial statements by Republican Todd Akin that rape victims are unlikely to have successful pregnancies. His statement was…
“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” said the U.S. Senate candidate in response to a question about whether abortion should be legal in cases of rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.”
Is this actually true? After a few days of not seeing anything in the media addressing what would seem to be a key question, I came across this article. Experts: Rape does not lower odds of pregnancy The crux of the article:
[The experts] conclusion contradicts a statement made last weekend by Rep. Todd Akin, R-Missouri, who suggested in an interview with CNN affiliate KTVI that rape rarely results in pregnancy.
However, there’s an interesting side note here. This article, discussing a kind of spontaneous abortion called preeclampsia notes that post conception, the female body can “shut the whole thing down,” and does so with increased occurrence after rape. Some select quotes from the article…
More often than not, preeclampsia is the result of a hostile immunological maternal response to the paternal genome in the developing conceptus. In other words, the mother’s body is unwittingly terminating a pregnancy that has arisen with a man for whom she has an incompatible biochemistry.
By the early 1980s, scientists had started to notice that preeclampsia was more likely to occur in pregnancies resulting from “one-night stands,” artificial insemination and rape than in pregnancies that were the product of long-term sexual cohabitation.
Now why would this be? Scientists have a theory.
“It may be useful to think about preeclampsia not simply as a medical anomaly,” reason the authors, “but as an adaptation that may have evolved to terminate pregnancies where future paternal investment was questionable or unlikely.” [WF: such as rape] Their argument, which is admittedly speculative, is predicated on the basic parental investment theory in evolutionary biology. While males could impregnate a potentially limitless number of females and spread their genes far and wide without any cost but a euphoric 90-second time investment, ancestral women’s genetic interests were compromised by having sex with a man who had no intention of helping her to raise any resulting offspring. Yet, if she did, and conceived as a consequence of that intercourse, preeclampsia was a second line of adaptive defence that would terminate this “costly” pregnancy—a sort of Darwinian morning after pill, as Gallup explained it to me.
The whole article is fascinating and really worth reading.
Now, essentially both articles are correct. Rape does not seem to be a factor in whether a woman becomes pregnant. But rape does seem to be a factor as to whether she “keeps” that pregnancy. (I’d be interested in knowing how much of a factor, but haven’t seen any data yet.)