Posted by: Donna
So there was this LTTE in support of Rep. Akin’s comments in the Republic this morning:
Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s recent statement regarding rape and possible resulting pregnancy was ill-treated by those who don’t have a clue in regard to the female body responding to trauma.
Clinically speaking, he is correct. Medical studies have shown that the ability to conceive is linked to the effects of psychological/physical trauma.
In regard to “legitimate” rape, meaning “factual evidence,” (forced, traumatic), as opposed to “non-legitimate” (date rape, semiconsensual to save one’s life), Rep. Akin needs to be given some space for knowing what he is talking about. He is much more educated in this area than his detractors.
Of course, all true rapes are barbaric and inhuman acts, and victims must be treated with compassion and afforded all appropriate medical attention.
– Anna Greenmun, Phoenix
Like I said before, the belief that women’s ability to conceive shuts down during “real” rapes is shockingly common among anti-choicers. As is the notion that some rapes aren’t really so bad (“semiconsensual”?), thus not deserving of an exception for abortion. The crackpot medical theory behind this was propagated by Dr. John C. Willke, a former president of the National Right to Life, who is such an elder statesman in the anti-abortion movement that Mitt Romney was delighted to have him serve as a prominent campaign surrogate last time he ran for President. That association, along with Akin’s comments, has put 87 year old Willke in the news this week and his writings detailing his bizarre beliefs about rape and pregnancy, which have been widely circulated among anti-choicers, are getting some scathing scrutiny by real medical experts:
“This is a traumatic thing — she’s, shall we say, she’s uptight,” Dr. Willke said of a woman being raped, adding, “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.”
Leading experts on reproductive health, however, dismissed this logic.
“There are no words for this — it is just nuts,” said Dr. Michael Greene, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. David Grimes, a clinical professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina, said, that “to suggest that there’s some biological reason why women couldn’t get pregnant during a rape is absurd.”
For some reason the NYT writer felt the need to provide “balance” by quoting Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association (who has no scientific credentials that I’m aware of) in support of Rep. Akin.
Lawmakers in Arizona have passed numerous offensive and invasive anti-choice laws these past two sessions, often citing dubious or outright bogus medical theories. One such instance was HB2036 which, among other things, imposes a complete ban on abortion past 20 weeks. A justification for the law was the belief that fetuses feel pain at that stage and they managed to find a doctor from Children’s Hospital in Phoenix who would testify to that end:
Dr. Paul Liu, a pediatrician and anesthesiologist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s pediatric intensive-care unit, testified before the Legislature in support of the bill.
Liu said there are three factors to determining whether a fetus feels pain: Are the pain receptors sufficiently developed? Are there measurable changes in stress levels such as raised blood pressure or increased levels of hormones like adrenaline? Is there consciousness?
He said the first two can be proved. The question of consciousness is more difficult.
“We can’t really know what goes on in the mind of a baby, so we look at the other stuff,” he said.
He said at 20 weeks, fetuses have all the nerves on their skin as well as the pathways between the nerves and the brain. But some of the finer details of the brain’s cortex, including those that determine the source or exact type of pain, don’t fully develop until 24 or 26 weeks.
So Liu said although the belief is that fetuses do feel pain, it may not be felt in the same way as an older child or an adult may feel it.
“The hard wires are in,” he said. “When you poke at a baby (in utero), they cry, they move away.”
That almost seems compelling. Then:
Liu admits the issue is an emotional one as well as a scientific one, particularly for doctors who are increasingly able to save babies born at earlier gestational ages.
Yeah. Other doctors scoff at the concept of fetuses feeling pain.
“Fetal pain at 20 weeks is an impossibility,” he said. “It’s like trying to make a telephone call on a landline when there’s no telephone poles laid yet.”
And separate from the physical- development question is the issue of pain itself.
“Pain is a very complex human phenomenon that has to be interpreted in light of prior experience,” he said. “Pain is a mature thing people have after they are born.”
Grimes said he believes the pain debate is not about the fetus but just another effort to ban abortions. If they were really concerned about fetal pain, he said, there would be a vigorous effort for legislation to provide pain relief for fetuses during delivery.
“Their heads are being used as battering rams for eight to 14 hours to get through the cervix. Yet we have not heard a single bill anywhere on that,” he said. “This issue has nothing to do with fetuses. It’s all meant to harass women.”
Of course it is and it’s horrifying that there are doctors willing to aid and abet the anti-choice movement by providing misleading and often fraudulent medical claims. Drs. Willke and Liu really ought to have their credentials reviewed. But make no mistake, we are dealing with a movement that has no compunction whatsoever about lying and distorting science to get its way. And it’s likely that a majority of the followers, such as the ltte writer from Phoenix, sincerely believe the crackpot ideas. Social conservatism is fraught with magical thinking and illogic. Which is why Rep. Todd Akin has people coming out to support him in droves.
Reminder: Jeff Flake votes exactly the same on reproductive issues as Akin.
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