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Pregnancy from rape is a potential result of copulatory sexual assault in which male-female rape produces pregnancy. The current scientific consensus is that rape is no less likely to lead to pregnancy than consensual intercourse.[1][2] The contrary belief that pregnancy can almost never result from rape was widespread for centuries.[3][2][4]

In recent decades, several prominent politicians and organizations who oppose legal abortion in cases of rape have advanced claims that pregnancy very rarely arises from forcible rape, and that therefore the practical relevance of rape exceptions to abortion law is limited.[5][6][7]

Rape-pregnancy statistics have also been analyzed from the perspective of sociobiology, specifically in relation to sociobiological theories of rape.[8]

Published medical findings

Statistics and pregnancy rates

Any female capable of ovulation may become pregnant from rape by a male who has reached puberty. Many of the youngest documented birth mothers in history experienced precocious puberty and were impregnated as a result of rape, including incest. In the youngest documented case, Peruvian Lina Medina was impregnated at age four and had a live birth in 1939 at age five.[9]

Physician Melisa M. Holmes published a 3-year longitudinal study of 4,000 American women which found that pregnancy may result from forced sexual intercourse, producing over 32,000 pregnancies from rape nationally each year.[10] That study found that among victims of reproductive age (defined in the study as ages 12 to 45), the rape-related pregnancy rate was 5% per rape or 6% per victim.[8] Of these pregnancies, 38% led to birth (kept by the mother or put up for adoption); 12% resulted in spontaneous abortion, and 50% were terminated through clinical abortion.[8] A study authored by psychologist Mary P. Koss in 1987 also found a 5% pregnancy rate from rape for 18-24 year-old higher education students in the United States.[11]

The rate varies between settings and depends particularly on the extent to which contraceptives are being used. A study of adolescents in Ethiopia found that among those who reported being raped, 17% became pregnant after the rape,[12] a figure which is similar to the 15–18% reported by rape crisis centres in Mexico.Template:Better source[13][14] Citing Koss, evolutionary psychologists Ethel Tobach and Rachel Reed note that in Lima, Peru, where abortions are illegal, 90% of girls age 12 to 16 who became pregnant through rape carried the child to term.[15]

Authors writing in the context of evolutionary psychology have published conflicting analysis of statistics about rape, ovulation, and pregnancy. Some have stated that conception rates are lower than reported, while others report unusually high rates. In A Natural History of Rape, Randy Thornhill disputed Holmes' statistics based on DNA findings by Holly A. Hammond,[16] which found that 60% of women who became pregnant after rape were impregnated by a consensual mate.[8] Psychologist Robert L. Smith states that some studies have reported "unusually high rates of conception following rape."[17] Smith cites a paper by C.A. Fox and Beatrice Fox where they report that biologist Sir Alan Sterling Parkes speculated via personal correspondence that "there is a high conception rate in rape, where hormonal release, due to fear or anger, could produce reflex ovulation."[18] Smith also cites veterinary scientist Wolfgang Jöchle, who "proposed that rape may induce ovulaton in human females."[19][20] Literary scholar Jonathan Gottschall and economist Tiffani Gottschall argued in a 2003 Human Nature article that previous studies of rape-pregnancy statistics were not directly comparable to pregnancy rates from consensual intercourse because the comparisons were largely uncorrected for such factors as contraception usage. Adjusting for these factors, they estimated that rapes are about twice as likely to result in pregnancies (7.98%) as "consensual, unprotected penile-vaginal intercourse" (2–4%); the authors discuss a variety of possible explanations and advance the hypothesis that rapists tend to target victims with biological "cues of high fecundity" and/or subtle indications of ovulation.[21] In contrast, psychologists Tara Chavanne and Gordon Gallup Jr., citing unpublished dissertations by Rogel and Morgan,[22][23] argued that female adaptations reduce the likelihood of rape during fertile periods.[24] Anthropologist Daniel Fessler disputed these findings, stating "analysis of conception rates reveals that the probability of conception following rape does not differ from that following consensual coitus."[25]

Treatment protocols

Some rape survivors carry the pregnancies to term, while others choose to terminate the pregnancy. Abortion rates for pregnancies due to rape vary significantly by culture and demographics. Peer-reviewed studies have reported a wide range for women who carry the pregnancy to birth: from 38% among American women to 90% among Peruvian adolescents.[10][15]

Following experimental use of high-dose estrogen pills as a rape treatment protocol in the 1960s, Canadian physician A. Albert Yuzpe and his colleagues began systematic studies in 1972 on the use of ethinyl estradiol and dl-norgestrel as emergency contraception after an assault.[26] This method is now called the Yuzpe regimen.[27]

Physician Felicia H. Stewart and economist James Trussell examined rape from pregnancy as a preventive medicine and public health issue. They estimated that 333,000 assaults and rapes reported in the United States in 1998 were responsible for about 25,000 pregnancies. They also estimated that up to 22,000 of those pregnancies could be prevented received with prompt medical services, including the option of emergency contraception.[28]

Children of rape

Both the traumatic effect of the rape and the connection to the rapist by the child can create significant psychological problems for both the mother and child. One example, is that in many jurisdictions, the rapist has prenatal rights. There have been no studies analyzing the number of rapists who seek custody. However, anecdotally the effects are significant. One rape victim stated, "I was raped in [North Carolina] and the rapist won “[j]oint” custody. Torment does not come close to describe what I live. . . . [The courts] have not only tied and bound me to a rapist, but also the innocent child that was conceived by VIOLENCE! [The rapist’s] violence has earned him even more control over my life. Another rape victim stated, “I was raped . . . and the rapist has been taking me to court for 5 years for the right to see his son. . . . I am being tormented to death. I just want to die . . . ."[29]

Children of rape are given up for adoption at a higher rate then other Children. One study estimated that 6 percent of children conceived in rape are given up for adoption, while another puts the number at 26 percent.[30]

Historical, political, and legal aspects

Historical legal views

In contrast to the modern scientific consensus that rape-induced pregnancies are not unlikely, according to historians such as Vanessa Heggie of the University of Cambridge or Jennifer Tucker of Wesleyan University, beliefs that rape could not lead to pregnancy were widespread in both legal and medical opinions for centuries.[3][4]

In the medieval British law texts Fleta[3] and Britton, it was asserted that pregnancy could not occur without consent and hence was a legitimate defense[4] against charges of rape. For example, Britton states: "With regard to an appeal of rape, our pleasure is, that every woman, whether virgin or not, shall have a right to sue vengeance for the felony by appeal in the county court within forty days, but after that time she shall lose her suit; in which case, if the defendant confesses the fact, but says that the woman at the same time conceived by him, and can prove it, then our will is that it be adjudged no felony, because no woman can conceive if she does not consent."[31] Medieval literary scholar Corinne Saunders writes, "The volatile legal status of rape appears to have been further complicated by the popular belief that a raped woman could not conceive a child. Although it is difficult to estimate just how widely disseminated such ideas of sexuality and pregnancy were at the time, at least some justices were influenced by them. A case recorded for the Eyre of Kent (1313) dismisses the charge of raptus brought by a certain Joan on the grounds of her pregnancy."[32]

The belief influenced medical as well as legal thinking: Saunders writes, "According to the Galenic theory of conception, for pregnancy to occur as a result of rape was impossible."[32] Similarly, Tucker writes that in the Aristotelian viewpoint of reproduction (further expanded upon in the 12th century by Hildegard of Bingen), female pleasure played a central role in conception.[4] Female reproduction was, in many ways, viewed through the lens of male reproductive processes, with female organs supposedly functioning as "inverted" versions of the male organs (and hence requiring orgasm for conception).[3][4]

The 1814 British legal text, Elements of Medical Jurisprudence by Samuel Farr, similarly claimed that conception "probably" could not occur without a woman's "enjoyment", "So that if an absolute rape were to be perpetrated, it is not likely she would become pregnant."[3][4][33]

On the other hand, another British legal text, Treatise of Pleas of the Crown, reported in 1795 on a similar belief, but then disparaged both its legal utility and its biological veracity: "Also it hath been said by some to be no rape to force a woman who conceives at the time; for it is said, that if she had not consented, she could not have conceived, but this opinion seems very questionable, not only because the previous violence is no way extenuated by such a subsequent consent, but also because, if it were necessary to shew that the woman did not conceive, the offender could not be tried till such time as it might appear whether she did or did not, and likewise because the philosophy of this notion may very well be doubted of."[4][34]

In U.S. v. Dickinson, 1 Hempstead Reporter 1 (1820 Ark. Territory), at 2 n.1., a court case dealing with a man pleading innocent to rape charges because the victim became pregnant, the court rejected the argument: "The old notion that if the woman conceive, it could not be a rape, because she must have in such case have consented, is quite exploded. Impregnation, it is well known, does not depend on the consciousness or volition of the female. If the uterine organs be in a condition favorable to impregnation, this may take place as readily as if the intercourse was voluntary."[4][35]

Historian Ian Talbot has written about how countries with Quran-based Islamic codes on rape and pregnancy use Sura An-Nur, verse 2 as a legal basis: "The law of evidence in all sexual crimes required either self-confession or the testimony of four upright (salah) Muslim males. In the case of a man, self-confession involved a verbal confession. For women however medical examinations and pregnancy arising from rape were admissible as proof of self-guilt."[36]

Lawyer Shauna Prewitt wrote in 2012 that in the United States, 31 states allow rapists to assert custody over children conceived through rape. In those states, "men who father through rape are able to assert the same custody and visitation rights to their children that other fathers enjoy. When no law prohibits a rapist from exercising these rights, a woman may feel forced to bargain away her legal rights to a criminal trial in exchange for the rapist dropping the bid to have access to her child."[37]

Literary views

An essay in the 2002 book Rape in Antiquity argues that, in classical Greek and Roman dramas, rape is merely an "incidental occurrence or convenient plot device." For example, in the play Epitrepontes by Menander in which a pregnancy ensues, "the act of rape that led to pregnancy is not so important as the arrival of a bastard child nine months later."[38]

Religious scholar Betsy Bauman-Martin writes that the 1810 book The Marquise of O by Heinrich von Kleist "fits the form of romantic rape narratives in its confusion between coerced and passively accepted sex, the bewilderment over the results of the sex, in this case, the pregnancy, the ultimate pleasure the Marquise feels from the relationship with the Count, and the Count's dark, powerful heroism."[39]

Berkeley historian Thomas W. Laqueur, in his 1992 book Making Sex, describes an evolution of the popular understanding of rape-pregnancy in two retellings of a story in which a monk forces himself upon a woman in a coma and impregnates her.[40] A 1752 version of the story, reflecting beliefs at the time about conception, assumes that the woman must have experienced some sort of pleasure. On the other hand, an 1836 version of the story uses the incident to demonstrate that female pleasure is not required for conception.

Sociobiological views

Sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists have hypothesized that causing pregnancy through rape may be a mating strategy in humans.[41] Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer are key popularizers of this hypothesis. They assert that most rape victims are women of childbearing age, and in many cultures rape is treated as a crime against the victim’s husband. They state that rape victims suffer less emotional distress when they are subjected to more violence. They further state that married women and women of childbearing age experience less psychological distress after a rape than do girls, single women or women who are past menopause.[42] Rape-pregnancy rates are of key importance in evaluating these theories of rape adaptations, because a high or low pregnancy rate from rape would determine whether such adaptations are favored or disfavored by natural selection.[21]

Opposition to legal abortion

Pregnancy from rape is an ethical and moral issue in the context of opposition to legal abortion. While some people who oppose legal abortion make exceptions in cases of rape or incest, others do not. In recent decades, reminiscent of historical beliefs,[3][2] claims of the improbability of rape-induced pregnancy have begun again to play a role in political discourse surrounding abortion regulation in cases of rape.[7][2]

Medical professionals who oppose legal abortion have published works stating that pregnancy from rape is rare due to a physical response of the woman. In a 1972 article, physician Fred Mecklenburg argued that pregnancy from rape is "extremely rare," adding that a woman exposed to the trauma of rape “will not ovulate even if she is 'scheduled' to."[43] Mecklenburg said researchers in Nazi death camps observed this effect by "selecting women who were about to ovulate and sending them to the gas chambers, only to bring them back after their realistic mock-killing, to see what the effect this had on their ovulatory patterns. An extremely high percentage of these women did not ovulate."[44] Journalist Blythe Bernhard stated, "That article has influenced two generations of anti-abortion activists with the hope to build a medical case to ban all abortions without any exception."[45] John C. Willke, a former president of the National Right to Life Committee and a general practitioner with obstetric training, has published similar statements since 1985. In a 2012 interview, he said, "This is a traumatic thing — she’s, shall we say, she’s uptight. She is frightened, tight, and so on. And sperm, if deposited in her vagina, are less likely to be able to fertilize. The tubes are spastic.” These assertions were disputed by a number of gynecology professors.[6] A 1997 book published by the group Human Life International (which opposes legality of abortion in all cases including rape or incest) claims that several studies performed in the 1970s show that only 0.08% of rapes result in pregnancy, and alternatively offers a rough estimate of 0.8% from other published statistical data; the same book dismisses contrary statistics derived from surveys of rape victims or women obtaining abortions, arguing that "the women who obtain abortions for 'rape' are almost always lying".[5] The United Kingdom pro-life group, Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, similarly claims that rape-pregnancy is "extremely rare", in part because the "trauma of being raped makes it difficult for fertilisation or implantation to occur."[46]

Several U.S. Republicans have advanced claims about the rarity of pregnancy from rape. Pennsylvania state Republican representative Stephen Freind claimed in 1988 that the odds of a pregnancy resulting from rape were “one in millions and millions and millions.”[47][48] James Leon Holmes published a letter in 1980 stating that "concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami."[49] Holmes apologized for this remark in 2003 after he was nominated as United States federal judge (and subsequently confirmed in 2004).[49][50] In 1995, North Carolina House of Representatives member Henry Aldridge remarked 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."[51][52] In 1998, Arkansas state senator (and ophthalmologist) Fay Boozman lost a campaign for a US Senate seat after remarking that rape victims were unlikely to become pregnant due to fear-induced hormonal changes; Boozman later apologized and eventually called the claim "a mistake," and in 1999 the controversy was renewed when he was appointed director of the Arkansas Dept. of Health by then-governor Mike Huckabee.[53][54] During his campaign in the United States Senate election in Missouri, 2012, U.S. Representative Todd Akin from Missouri's 2nd congressional district commented on abortion exceptions for rape victims: "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."[55] The comment was widely criticized.[56][57][58][59][60] Akin apologized, saying he "misspoke." Akin's suggestion that rape might impede pregnancy was defended by some prominent individuals and groups which oppose legal abortion.[6][61][62]

See also


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  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Sharon Begley and Susan Heavey, Rape trauma as barrier to pregnancy has no scientific basis, Reuters (20 August 2012).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Vanessa Heggie, 'Legitimate rape' – a medieval medical concept, The H Word, hosted by The Guardian (20 August 2012).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Jennifer Tucker, The Medieval Roots of Todd Akin’s Theories, New York Times (23 August 2012).
  5. 5.0 5.1 Brian Clowes, The Facts of Life: An Authoritative Guide to Life & Family Issues, Chapter 3: Exceptions for Abortion: The Frequency of Rape-Caused Pregnancies (Human Life International, 1997). ISBN 1559220430.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "Health Experts Dismiss Assertions on Rape". The New York Times. 2012-08-21. Retrieved 2012-08-21.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Garance Franke-Ruta, Analysis — A Canard That Will Not Die: 'Legitimate Rape' Doesn't Cause Pregnancy, National Journal (21 August 2012).
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Thornhill, Randy; Palmer; Craig T. (2001). A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion. MIT Press, ISBN 9780262700832
  9. Elgar Brown (for Chicago Evening American). "American scientists await U.S. visit of youngest mother: Peruvian girl and baby will be exhibited," San Antonio Light, July 11, 1939, page 2A.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Holmes, MM; Resnick, HS; Kilpatrick, DG; Best, CL (1996 Aug). "Rape-related pregnancy: Estimates and descriptive characteristics from a national sample of women.". American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 175 (2): 320-4; discussion 324-5. doi:10.1016/S0002-9378(96)70141-2. PMID 8765248.
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  12. Mulugeta, E; Kassaye, M; Berhane, Y. (1998). "Prevalence and outcomes of sexual violence among high school students". Ethiopian Medical Journal 36 (3): 167–174. PMID 10214457.
  13. Evaluación de Proyecto para Educación, Capacitación, y Atención a Mujeres y Menores de Edad en Materia de Violencia Sexual, Enero a Diciembre 1990. [An evaluation of a project to provide education, training and care for women and minors affected by sexual violence, January–December 1990.] Mexico City, Asociación Mexicana contra la Violencia a las Mujeres, 1990.
  14. Carpeta de información ba´sica para la atencio´n solidaria y feminista a mujeres violadas. [Basic information file for mutually supportive feminist care for women rape victims.] Mexico City, Centro do Apoyo a Mujeres Violadas, 1985.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Tobach, Ethel; Reed, Rachel (2003). Understanding rape. in Cheryl Brown Travis, Ed. Evolution, Gender, and Rape. MIT Press, ISBN 9780262700900
  16. Hammond HA, Redman JB, Caskey CT (1995). Utero Paternity Testing Following Alleged Sexual Assault: A Comparison of DNA-Based Methods JAMA. 1995;273(22):1774-1777. PMID 7769772
  17. Smith, Robert L. (2005). Human sperm competition. In Shackelford, Todd K. and Nicholas Pound, Eds. Sperm Competition in Humans: Classic and Contemporary Readings. Taylor & Francis, ISBN 9780387280363
  18. Fox CA, Fox B. (1971). A comparative study of coital physiology, with special reference to the sexual climax. J Reprod Fertil. 1971 Mar;24(3):319-36. PMID 4926898
  19. Jöchle W (1973). Coitus-induced ovulation. Contraception 7:523-565
  20. Jöchle W (1975). Current research in coitus-induced ovulation: a review. J Reprod Fertil Suppl. 1975 Apr;(22):165-207. Review. PMID 810583
  21. 21.0 21.1 Gottschall, Jonathan A.; Gottschall, Tiffani A. (2003). "Are per-incident rape-pregnancy rates higher than per-incident consensual pregnancy rates?". Human Nature 14: 1–20. doi:10.1007/s12110-003-1014-0. Cited in: Robillard, Kevin. "Doctors: Todd Akin pregnancy claim bogus". Politico. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  22. Rogel M.J. (1976). Biosocial Aspects of Rape Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Psychology, University of Chicago
  23. Morgan J.B. (1981). Relationship between Rape and Physical Damage During Rape and Phase of Sexual Cycle During Which Rape Occurred Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Texas at Austin
  24. Chavanne , T.J. and Gallup , G.G. Jr. 1998 . ‘Variations in risk taking behaviour among female college students as a function of the menstrual cycle’ . Evolution and Human Behaviour , 19 : 27 – 32 .
  25. Template:Doi
  26. Yuzpe AA, Smith RP, Rademaker AW. A multicenter clinical investigation employing ethinyl estradiol combined with dl-norgestrel as postcoital contraceptive agent. Fertil Steril 1982;37:508-513 PMID 7040117
  27. Haspels AA (1994). Emergency contraception: a review. Contraception. 1994 Aug;50(2):101-8. PMID 7956209
  28. Stewart, Felicia H, Trussell, James (2000). Prevention of pregnancy resulting from rape: A neglected preventive health measure. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 19, Issue 4 , Pages 228-229, November 2000. PMID 11064225
  29. PREWITT, SHAUNA R. (2010). "Giving Birth to a “Rapist’s Child”: A Discussion and Analysis of the Limited Legal Protections Afforded to Women Who Become Mothers Through Rape". The Georgetown Law Journal. 827 98: 831.
  30. PALMER, BRIAN. "Should a mother tell her child he was conceived in a rape". Archived from the original on 6 July 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
  31. Nichols, Francis Morgan. Britton. Macmillan and Co. pp. 114.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Saunders, Corinne J. (2001). Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England. D. S. Brewer, ISBN 9780859916103
  33. Samuel Farr, Elements of Medical Jurisprudence, second edition, chapter IV (London, 1814). See also scanned original book.
  34. William Hawkins, Treatise of Pleas of the Crown, seventh edition, p. 308 (London, 1795).
  35. "U.S. v. Dickinson, 1 Hempstead Reporter 1 (1820 Ark. Territory), at 2 n.1.".
  36. Talbot Ian (1998). Pakistan: A Modern History. Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 9780312216061
  37. Prewitt, Shauna (August 22, 2012). Raped, pregnant and ordeal not over. CNN
  38. Karen Pierce, "The Portrayal of Rape in New Comedy.", from Susan Deacy and Karen F. Pierce, eds., Rape in Antiquity: Sexual Violence in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Bristol Classical Press, 2002). Cited by Edward M. Harris, Review article, Classical Views XL, no. 16, pp. 483-496 (1997).
  39. Sabbath, Roberta Sterman (2009). Sacred Tropes: Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur'an As Literature and Culture. BRILL, ISBN 9789004177529
  40. Thomas W. Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Harvard Univ. Press, 1992). Cited in Sarah Morice-Brubaker, ‘Let It Be Unto Me’: Akin, Rape, and the Early Church: A Q&A with historians of the early church., Religion Dispatches Magazine (23 August 2012).
  41. McKibbin, William F.; Shackelford, Todd K.; Goetz, Aaron T.; Starratt, Valerie G. (1 January 2008). "Why do men rape? An evolutionary psychological perspective.". Review of General Psychology 12 (1): 86–97. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.12.1.86.
  42. Thornhill, Randy; Palmer, Craig T (200). Why men rape. Sciences, 30-36 40, no. 1 (Jan/Feb 2000)
  43. Mecklenburg, Fred E. (1972). The Indications for Induced Abortion: A Physician's Perspective. In Abortion and Social Justice, Thomas Hilgers and Dennis Horan, eds., p. 50. Sheed & Ward, ISBN 9780836205428
  44. Townsend, Tim (August 21, 2012). "Akin appears to have picked up conclusions from 1972 article now hotly disputed". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  45. Bernhard, Blythe (August 22, 2012). The roots of Rep. Todd Akin’s “legitimate” rape remarks. Washington Post
  46. Abortion after rape, Society for the Protection of Unborn Children web site, accessed 23 August 2012.
  47. Kliff, Sarah (August 20, 2012). "Rep. Todd Akin is wrong about rape and pregnancy, but he’s not alone". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  48. "Freind admits he erred, exaggerated on rapes". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. March 30, 1988.,8910888&dq=stephen+freind+one+in+millions+and+millions+and+millions&hl=en.
  49. 49.0 49.1 Charles Babington, Senate Confirms Controversial Nominee to Federal Court, Washington Post (7 July 2004).
  50. Congressional Record of the US Senate, v. 150, p. 14334 (6 July 2004).
  51. "N.C. Legislator Says Rape Victims Don't Get Pregnant". The Mount Airy News. April 21, 1995.,2257940&dq=victims-don-t-get-pregnant&hl=en.
  52. "A Canard That Will Not Die: 'Legitimate Rape' Doesn't Cause Pregnancy". The Atlantic. 19 Aug 2012. Retrieved 2012-08-21.
  53. "Boozman says rape remark a mistake", Associated Press (15 February 1999).
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Further reading

Template:Reproductive health

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