Legitimising rape and the war on women

"I think we just shouldn’t have abortion in this country" ... Representative Todd Akin
"I think we just shouldn’t have abortion in this country" ... Representative Todd Akin 

This man says that women can’t get pregnant by rape.

Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for Senate in the US state of Missouri, is vehemently anti-abortion, even in cases of rape. That’s because he thinks women have special biological powers to prevent pregnancy in the case of rape. Yup, really.

"First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare," Akin told KTVI-TV. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

The statement came less than two weeks after Akin announced that he’d like the morning after pill - the pill which can effectively prevent pregnancy after rape or unprotected consensual sex - to be banned.

“As far as I’m concerned, the morning-after pill is a form of abortion, and I think we just shouldn’t have abortion in this country,” he said in an Aug ust 8 interview with KCMO Radio.

When women aren't intending to become pregnant, or actively don't want to become pregnant, the results can be dangerous - unsafe abortion is linked to 220,000 maternal deaths every year

The fact is, pregnancy is a common consequence of rape. A wide-ranging US study found a pregnancy rate of 5 per cent among rape victims of reproductive age, which they classified as  starting at 12 years of age.

When women aren't intending to become pregnant, or actively don't want to become pregnant, the results can be dangerous to both mother and baby. Unsafe abortion is linked to 220,000 maternal deaths worldwide every year.

Even if women choose to continue the pregnancy after being raped – or are unable to end it - the lack of prenatal planning and early pregnancy health care can lead to adverse physical and mental consequences for mother and child, particularly if the mother is underage. And here it's worth noting that an estimated 44 per cent of rape victims are under 18.

After controlling for birth weight, researchers found that the postneonatal mortality rate (that is, the death rate for children in the first year after birth) was approximately twice as high for infants born to mothers under 17 years of age than for infants born to older women. The incidence of SIDS is also higher among infants of adolescents, and these infants also experience higher rates of illness and injuries.

Across all age groups, women who are unintentionally pregnant are more likely to drink and smoke while expecting, and their babies are more likely to be born with a low birthweight. Unsurprisingly, these mums are also much more likely to experience depression following the birth of their child. 

Sadly, Akin’s comments are just the latest in a long line of bewildering Republican statements on female reproductive rights.

Take this snippet from Rick Santorum, 2012 candidate for Republican presidential nomination: "I believe and I think that the right approach is to accept this horribly created, in the sense of rape, but nevertheless, in a very broken way, a gift of human life, and accept what God is giving to you." 

If pregnancy is the silver lining after being raped, I’d hate to see what a republican God grants to his enemies.

Such comments are appearing at a time when US state legislatures are debating and approving bills which repeal hard-won reproductive rights laws for women.

Arizona now forbids abortions after 20 weeks, even in the case of fetal abnormality, rape and incest. A similar bill has passed through the lower house in Michigan.

In Pennsylvania and Virginia, it has been proposed that women – even rape victims – should undergo an intrusive trans-vaginal ultrasound if requesting an abortion in the early stages of pregnancy.

Last year alone, 1100 reproductive health and rights-related provisions were introduced in state legislature, 68% of which restricted access to abortion services.

This push to limit access to services, defund women’s health and change the definition of rape is being called a 'war on women' by family planning services, international women's rights groups and media outlets.

Akin has since said that he "mispoke" in the original KTVI-TV interview, but has not retracted his statements on so-called "legitimate" rape.

The developments in the US should act as a reminder that reproductive and other female health services are vulnerable to political whim. Similar policy cutbacks are also being seen across the Pacific in Queensland, where the new health minister, Lawrence Springborg, has overseen cuts to Family Planning grants, as well as the redistribution of breast-screening funds.

Women, it’s time to speak up.

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