The Science of Akin

From the Guardian, one possible theory for the source of Akin’s idiot ‘science’:

The idea that rape victims cannot get pregnant has long roots. The legal position that pregnancy disproved a claim of rape appears to have been instituted in the UK sometime in the 13th century. One of the earliest British legal texts, Fleta, has a clause in the first book of the second volume stating that:

“If, however, the woman should have conceived at the time alleged in the appeal, it abates, for without a woman’s consent she could not conceive.”

This was a long-lived legal argument. Samuel Farr’s Elements of Medical Jurisprudence contained the same idea as late as 1814:

“For without an excitation of lust, or the enjoyment of pleasure in the venereal act, no conception can probably take place. So that if an absolute rape were to be perpetrated, it is not likely she would become pregnant.”

This “absolute rape” is not quite the same as Akin’s “legitimate rape”. Akin seems to be suggesting that the body suppresses conception or causes a miscarriage, while the earlier idea of Farr relates specifically to the importance of orgasm. Through the medieval and early modern period it was widely thought, by lay people as well as doctors, that women could only conceive if they had an orgasm.

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5 Responses to The Science of Akin

  1. RandyB says:

    There’s a pretty good discussion of the background of Akin’s belief in the Washington Post’s On Faith (as well as a bunch of chest-beating opinion pieces):–just-like-much-of-the-abstinence-education-the-christian-right-promotes/2012/08/23/b37f1c92-ed2f-11e1-b09d-07d971dee30a_story.html

    Akin is repeating a lot of stuff you see in the “family” bookstore version of Christianity — good girls don’t have problems related to sexuality. They seem well in the tradition of John Ashcroft, who believed a lot of really stupid things about the relationship of religion to public policies.

  2. joe arrigo says:

    The scary thing about this is that Akin is on the House science committee. That’s like having Rush Limbaugh on the American Olympic poll vaulting team.

  3. Acilius says:

    Sarah Posner, at Religion Dispatches, analyzes several documents issued by the Presbyterian Church of America that bear on these questions, and finds ideas and wording quite similar to Mr Akin’s. Since Mr Akin is a member of that denomination, and in fact holds a postgraduate degree from one of its seminaries, I think her case is pretty convincing.

  4. Kevin S. says:

    One difference between Akin and the authors of 13th Century legal texts is that medieval English society had no scientific understanding of how the female reproductive system works, or any of the studies that have shown that the pregnancy rate after rape, while slightly less than the rate after consensual sex, is a *lot* greater than zero.for rape victims, while slightly less than the rate for women who have consensual sex, is a *lot* greater than zero.

    BTW, why is there a picture of President Obama in this post, which doesn’t deal with him at all? Is somebody trying to send a subliminal political message?

  5. Andrew Stuttaford says:

    Kevin, why Obama? It’s because Akin’s comments were good for him. That’s why he’s laughing (if you run your cursor over the photo, you’ll see there’s a caption).

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