Legitimate Rape or Legitimate Ignorance?

Written by yvonnethornton on September 6th, 2012

In February, there was a hearing chaired by Daryl Issa for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing on the Contraceptive Coverage Rule.  Unfortunately, the panel was entirely male.  Talk about oversight!  This prompted many female members of congress to walk out of the hearing in protest, much to the confusion of the chair.  When asked about the walkout, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said, “If our republican colleagues want to continue to take this issue head on, we will stand here as long as necessary.”  In August, women received a fresh reminder of the Republican male’s perspective on rape when Representative Tod Akin proclaimed, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Women around the world are wondering what constitutes the difference between rape and legitimate rape.  John C. Wilke, who is not an obstetrician, but a general practitioner of almost 90 years old, and who is the former President of the National Right to Life Committee is the only doctor who supports Akin’s remarks regarding whether or not the reproductive system of a woman shuts down during rape.  With such credentials, it goes without saying that he may have a bias and outdated view of rape and the female body, and experts disagree with his supposedly medical explanation for his belief.  In fact, one in 15 raped women become pregnant, no matter what definition of rape you choose.  Are Akin and Wilke suggesting that those rapes were not legitimate?  I doubt it seemed that way to the women when it was happening.

The most disconcerting part of all of this is that representative Akin has the power to influence laws in our country.  In this day and age, we hope that men have at least the decency and empathy to listen to the voices of women in our country, and, heaven forbid, include us in panels and decision-making regarding our own reproductive rights.  Hopefully, there are a lot of women and understanding men out there willing to make their vote count in order to make a positive change for all of us.  I wonder, is it pure prejudice keeping men like Akin in the dark when it comes to women’s health issues and reproductive rights, or is it legitimate ignorance?


– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.


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