A New Row Over Pregnancy Caused by Rape

Recommended reading
Today’s post is at Crisis Magazine.

Why are the following questions political? How often do raped women become pregnant because of the rape? How often do (non-raped) women become pregnant because of an act of intercourse?

You would think these queries would have medical interest, which they surely do, but that the body politic would not suffer severe dyspepsia when contemplating them. You would think that, but you would be wrong.

Head over to Crisis Magazine and discover the mysterious answers! (To the medical questions, not the why-is-it-interesting question, which shall forever be a puzzle.)

The Argument Against Same-Sex Marriage concludes tomorrow.


  1. As a poster I have says “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts”!

    It’s so much easier to get the result you want when you just make assumptions and use them in place of data. 🙂

  2. Briggs


    You sound like an environmentalist.

  3. bernie

    Nice article. One commentator’s advice to all conservatives was that when they are asked about rape, they should change the subject because whatever they say will be twisted. Well that certainly lowers the bar on political dialogue.

  4. Briggs


    True. I’m having difficulty discussing this with some Twitter feminists (see sidebar). One would think it a cheering thought that rapes results in fewer pregnancies than non-rape intercourse. As above, one would be wrong.

  5. tom

    What is the point of this article? I don’t know.

  6. andyd

    It only takes one rape to cause a pregnancy for it to matter.

  7. Briggs


    Yes. An unfortunately true point, but irrelevant to the question at hand.


    Don’t worry about not knowing. Interpretive skill is not a gift everyone possess.

  8. tom

    Briggs, the myth that male privilege is being able to take a joke is debunked.

  9. Briggs: I spend a lot of time dealing with environmentalists. Is it rubbing off on me?

  10. MattS


    If it is, I recommend that you immediately go to visit the nearest nuclear power plant for decontamination. 🙂

  11. Rod

    Presumably rapists have inherited their propensity to rape along with beefier sperm. What about the female concepti? Might they grow up to become victims?

  12. Briggs


    You clearly don’t understand (the politics of) evolutionary psychology.

  13. Matt,
    No nearby nuclear power plants but there is an old mine area with those cool radiation warning signs. That should work! It’s on the way to my cabin! 🙂

  14. John R T

    Thank you for this sensible and sensitive exploration.

  15. Rod

    Wait a moment… the scenario I suggested is actually the current reality.

  16. What Akin and Grieg did was not “asking the question” but *making the assertion* of a claim which has no foundation. And this was done for the purpose of undermining the right of a woman who has been raped to protect herself from the consequences of that rape. And what you are doing is dishonestly implicitly attributing the claim of knowledge to those who attacked those two liars.

    Grieg’s claim that she “doesn’t claim to know by how much the likelihood is changed” doesn’t absolve her of her claim that “the percentage of pregnancies due to rape is small *because* it’s an act of violence” which clearly implies that the violent aspect makes the percentage smaller even if she doesn’t know “by how much”.

    And don’t hide behind the fact that your attribution of a knowledge claim to the other side is implicit. Your use of phrases like “not the desired answer” makes your intent quite clear.

  17. Rod

    When I read the article I didn’t notice it was written by Briggs until the end. I thought it might have been written by a young nun at a catholic college. Not even the repeated declarations of “We don’t know” caused me to twig the author until I got to the end.

  18. bernie

    It seems to me there is an every day parallel to the problem of saying there is no data that will answer that question. When my wife asks me whether X is going to happen and X is something I am interested in and know a fair amount about and I say “I don’t know” (because I don’t know) she gets mad at me.
    Of course real experts and real scientists say “I don’t know” more often than do people who know far less. I believe both Socrates and Lao Tzu muttered something along the same lines.
    “To know that you do not know is the best. To pretend to know when you do not know is a disease.”

  19. Rod

    Sadly, about the only words I spoke to my ex-wife for quite a few months were, “I don’t know”.

  20. Sander van der Wal

    There are the facts and then there is the political situation. Based on the fact that we do not know how often a raped woman gets pregnant as a result, you can still argue for the policy you want implemented.

    Like: changes are almost no women will get pregnant, so let her have the baby. The problem is not important enough compared to other issues with more people’s live at state.

    Or like: changes are almost no women will get pregnant, so let her abort the fetus. The problem is not important enough compared to other issues with more people’s live at state.

    Same facts, same unknowns, but different political stances, and therefore different solutions.

    The same will happen when you know more facts, like the exact number of conceptions after a rape.

  21. Briggs


    Now I just wonder whether you were as anxious to correct the critics of Akin who also asserted what is unknown? It would be fun if you could point us to those places where you did scold them.

    And what say you to the actual statistics of rape-pregnancy?

  22. Sorry to disappoint you Matt, but no-one I follow or talk to made any assertion regarding whether or by how much the frequency of pregnancy following rape differs from that following consensual intercourse, so there was nothing there for me to correct.

    Lots of people I know did object to the unfounded claim that it is significantly less (in the common language sense of “significantly”) without claiming themselves that it was not in fact less, and many more made the claim (which I agree with) that it is known to be non-zero and that is all that matters with regard to the question of whether we should let the victim decide or let her force her to bear the child.

    (And if, like Grieg, you think that violence and trauma necessarily decreases the chance of pregnancy – then consider the hermaphroditic flatworm!
    – see Item #3 at http://www.cracked.com/article/241_5-animals-that-can-do-amazing-things-…-with-their-penises/ )

  23. Briggs


    Come now. The vast majority of Greig and Akin’s critics contend that the know for a fact what the rape-pregnancy stats are, and that anybody who denies this “fact” is evil.

    Heres your chance to nail your colors to the mast. Do you say that trauma is not predictive of rates of conception? Or do you agree with me that it is plausible that it is?

  24. JH

    It puzzles me why anyone person would want to claim that legitimate rape doesn’t cause pregnancy, which is clearly wrong.

    I agree with Rob. One is too many. I don’t care how often raped women become pregnant because of the rape? Imagine if the victim were your daughter!

    If a woman is raped repeatedly by a pervert who is probably known by the victim, then her chance of getting pregnant increases. This is not a medical knowledge; just a common sense. It seems in-feasible to do a medical study on it nowadays since a raped woman would know or be suggested to take necessary steps to avoid a pregnancy. What sane person would ask a raped victim not to take action so a medical study can be conducted?

  25. Briggs, your claim that “The vast majority of Greig and Akin’s critics contend that the know for a fact what the rape-pregnancy stats are” is just total BS. Even if it’s true I am prepared to bet that you don’t have any real evidence to prove it. Some people may actually have data on the frequency with which reported rapes lead to pregnancy but I don’t so I have no colours to nail up except for the assertion that at least *some* do. (And as several others have also pointed out, that’s really all that matters.)

    I make no claim as to whether or not there is a negative or positive correlation between sexual violence and conception but I can well imagine it going either way. The flatworm case wasn’t mentioned entirely in jest and there may well be other cases where there is evolutionary pressure for defeated resistance to copulation being associated with enhanced conception rate. (After all, it at least requires some level of strength, skill and/or cunning on the part of the male – all of which may be usefully applied also to hunting for food either by or on behalf of the offspring.)

  26. Rod

    JH said “It puzzles me why anyone person would want to claim that legitimate rape doesn’t cause pregnancy, which is clearly wrong.”

    It’s physics. Somewhere along the biochemical pathway a one/zero state would have to be satisfied that decided whether or not conception would occur.

  27. DNY

    What bothered me most about the critiques of Akin’s remark was that they missed both a moral and a scientific point, both in the interest of the propagandistic “Republicans are anti-scientific morons” meme:

    First the scientific point: all the critiques assumed that Akin was asserting a differential rate of conception. His remark, however, is perfectly consistent with belief in a differential rate of early miscarriage (a.k.a. spontaneous abortion). While there are no studies directly on rape victims, there are studies (e.g. http://dx.doi.org/10.1073%2Fpnas.0511183103) showing that elevated cortisol levels — a marker for PTSD, such as is often experience by victims of forcible rape — are associated with much higher rates of early miscarriage than are found in women with normal cortisol levels.

    Noisily focusing on conception, rather than considering the more scientifically defensible gloss on Akin’s remark, always with the subtext either tacit or explicit, “Republicans are anti-scientific knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers,” the critics never even got to the moral point: to be morally relevant, a natural mechanism for suppressing rape-induced pregnancies would have to be flawless, which it manifestly is not.

    Akin should have withdrawn from the race, not because his belief was scientifically indefensible, but because by asserting it as if it had a bearing on the question of whether abortions of rape-induced pregnancies might be a species of justifiable homicide, he proved himself incapable of articulate, sound moral reasoning, and thus proved himself to be an unsuitable standard bearer both for the pro-life cause and for his party.

  28. Leg

    JH: I am the father of raped woman who bore the rapist’s child. As much as I detest the man responsible, I cannot thank God enough for the blessings brought to our family. I could not ask for a more intelligent, loving and beautiful grandchild. Additionally it turned my daughter’s life around from a life of drugs. To me your comments imply that my grandchild is an evil spawn of the devil (or something along those lines). You may not realize this, but the attitude that a child conceived by rape is potentially or actually a bad thing, is about as narrow minded and Puritanical as you can get. There is nothing “liberal” in this attitude. My daughter got familial support in a big way and it has paid incalculable dividends.

  29. Leg

    JH: now that I have my emotions (anger, outrage, wanting to call you an idiot) out of the way, let me be more logical – in concert with Mr. Briggs’ approach in this blog.

    Your argument has a false premise in that there appears to be an assumption or presumption that a rape induced pregnancy necessarily creates hardship for the child, mother or society. It may be only one example, but it only takes one example to negate the premise. My/our experience, as noted above, negates the premise.

    If society looked at a rape induced pregnancy as a potential blessing, instead of a horror, the applause for the killing of babies (abortion) arising from the horrible act would likely cease.

  30. JH


    I understand why could be angry, but you have inferred much more than what I said. However, my premise is that one rape is more than enough. I can’t change how our society is. If my husband and I (we are proud adoptive parents) were 20 years younger, we would have been the first in line to adopt!!!

  31. DNY, are you just trying to cloud the issue? Akin and Grieg clearly implied a differential rate of something (whether it be conception or successful implantation) and it is also clear that they had no good grounds for making that claim.(Not to mention the fact that it is irrelevant to the question of what to do when a rape-induced pregnancy actually does occur!)

    Leg, No-one has said that all rape induced pregnancies should be aborted; just that it should be up to the victim to decide – and different people may have different reasons for taking that position.

    Some may believe that an unborn human has no rights and a pregnant woman always has the right to terminate the pregnancy. Others will draw the line at some level of neurological development in the fetus, etc. etc.

    Among these groups some will accept restrictions on abortion that are more stringent than they believe necessary on the basis of fetal rights out of deference to the feelings of others who may be offended by the practice of abortion; but such people may draw the line at rape because they feel that the offense to those who object is less than that of restricting the woman’s right to choose to avoid the experience of rape-induced pregnancy.

    Spawn of the devil theorists (or those who think as Rod implied above) may also exist, but I suspect that they are a very small part of the mix and most of the rest of us would applaud your daughter’s decision even though we feel no compunction to act likewise.

    People who believe that a fertilized ovum has the same moral rights as a born person will of course disagree with abortion on any grounds other than perhaps when the pregnancy is life-threatening. I think they are wrong (and don’t see much prospect of my being persuaded otherwise), but that does not reduce my respect for those who adhere faithfully to their own beliefs in the management of their own affairs. (I am less tolerant though when it comes to imposing the consequences those beliefs on others.)

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