Conservative lawmakers know they want to limit women's reproductive rights, but they don't always know how the female reproductive system actually works.
Four years after former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin famously argued that not all rape is "legitimate," Idaho State Rep. Pete Nielsen has picked up where Akin left off, stating on Thursday that a woman is somehow less likely to become pregnant through assault than through consensual sex.
During an Idaho State House hearing on a new piece of anti-choice legislation, The Spokesman-Review reported, the Republican congressman told his colleagues this:
"Now, I’m of the understanding that in many cases of rape it does not involve any pregnancy because of the trauma of the situation. That may be true with incest a little bit."
Nielsen made the remarks after a crisis pregnancy center employee revealed that her center had treated two rape victims who chose to go through with their pregnancies—the lawmaker was apparently skeptical that rape victims could become pregnant in the first place.
Nielsen defended his comments after the hearing, according to the paper, saying pregnancy “doesn’t happen as often as it does with consensual sex, because of the trauma involved.”
When asked about the basis of his beliefs, Nielsen said, “That’s information that I’ve had through the years. Whether it’s totally accurate or not, I don’t know."
He then added, “I read a lot of information. I have read it several times. … Being a father of five girls, I’ve explored this a lot.”
Nielsen's comments harken back to Akin's inflammatory remarks about rape and pregnancy made in 2012, which ultimately derailed the Missouri lawmaker's Senate campaign against Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill.
In an interview with a local news outlet, Akin, then a Tea Party darling, explained that abortion exceptions for rape or incest were not really necessary since, as he put it, “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”
Of course, this isn't how conception or pregnancy work. A woman's body doesn’t just “shut down” the possibility of a pregnancy when sex is forced upon her without consent.
As the Spokesman-Review noted in its coverage of Nielsen's remarks:
The scientific consensus on the issue is that rape is as likely to result in pregnancy as consensual sex, and some studies suggest the rate of pregnancy is higher in rape. A 2003 study that appeared in the scientific journal “Human Nature,” for instance, found that the rate of pregnancy from rape exceeded the rate of pregnancy from consensual sex by a “sizable margin.”
Indeed, the level of trauma a woman experiences during a sexual assault cannot be measured by whether she becomes pregnant as a result of her attack or not. Incest victims are not “safe” from pregnancy. And while incest is unquestionably a horrific crime of physical and psychological abuse, it is demeaning to victims of other forms of sexual violence to imply that their trauma is somehow further down on the scale. All rape is legitimate rape, and all rape can lead to pregnancy.
So, sorry, Pete Nielsen, but the information you've "read several times" did not hold up four years ago, and it doesn't hold up now.
Jen Gerson Uffalussy is a regular contributor to Fusion. She also writes about reproductive and sexual health/policy for Glamour, and television for The Guardian. She lives in Atlanta.