Republicans’ Claim That Rape Doesn’t Cause Pregnancy Comes From Nazi Experiments

What Women Really Think
June 12 2013 2:52 PM

The Myth That Rape Rarely Causes Pregnancy Comes From Nazi Experiments

114957353
Rep. Trent Franks testifies during a May 2011 hearing on Capitol Hill

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

I don’t understand why Republicans continue to offer up headlines like “GOP congressman: Rate of pregnancies from rape is ‘very low.’ ” It is terrible politics for them to focus the public’s attention on their justification for the fact that they don’t support an exception to abortion bans for rape victims. The view doesn’t have anything like majority support, and they come off as heartless, ignorant scolds. If I were an anti-abortion activist, I’d want to muzzle these people. But they are irrepressible. At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Rep. Trent Franks, a Republican from Arizona, argued against an exception for rape and incest victims from a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. He said, “Before, when my friends on the left side of the aisle here tried to make rape and incest the subject—because, you know, the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.” He is of course following in the footsteps of former Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, who said that women can stave off pregnancy after a “legitimate rape.” (He apologized but that didn’t save him from losing his next election.)

These claims are false, of course, or as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists puts it, “medically inaccurate, offensive, and dangerous.” That is not all that’s wrong with the claims. They originate with Nazi experiments on women in concentration camps. Here’s what I wrote about this last November

Advertisement

“In the aftermath of Akin’s statement, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on a 1972 essay by an obstetrician named Fred Mecklenburg, who cited a Nazi experiment in which women were told they were on their way to die in the gas chambers—and then were allowed to live, so that doctors could check whether they would still ovulate. Since few did, Mecklenburg claimed that women exposed to the emotional trauma of rape wouldn’t be able to become pregnant, either. (He also argued that rapists are infertile because they masturbate a lot.) The essay was published in a book financed by A.U.L.”

A.U.L. is Americans United for Life, a pro-life advocacy group with increasing clout because of its success in drafting model state laws to restrict abortion. The line from the Nazis to Mecklenburg to Akin and Franks runs through Jack Wilke, a doctor who is the former head of the National Right to Life Committee. He said, "What is certainly one of the most important reasons why a rape victim rarely gets pregnant, and that's physical trauma." And he stuck with this when the Los Angeles Times called to ask him about Akin last year. When I asked A.U.L. head Charmaine Yoest about the claim that rape rarely results in pregnancy, she was smarter and called it “a distraction.” Abortion opponents sure do keep bringing it up, though.

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.