Thursday, 23 August 2012

The rape troll as martyr

Republican congressman and anti-abortion fundamentalist, Todd Akin, who believes that women should be denied abortion, even when the reason for abortion is to terminate a pregnancy resulting from rape, is so extreme that he's not even wanted on Mittens Romney's travelling freak show any more. Akin made a disastrous attempt at what I can only assume was meant to be a calculated piece of liberal-baiting, to rally the troops on the religious right ('It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that [pregnancy resulting from rape] is really rare ... If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down...').

Akin's views were widely criticised and challenged. Unable to rise to the challenge, Akin rapidly faded from rising star of the liberal-trolling right to an object of pity for Sarah Palin  ('Bless his heart, I don't want to pile on Todd Akin'). Hasta la vista, credibility.

Except, that is, among folk whose life's work consists of trying to shift the Overton Window in the direction of an American Ayatollah-style misogynist theocracy, in which case Todd's a heroic martyr to political correctness. Steve Kellmeyer, come on down:
Everyone is jumping on Akins because he said something wrong. Nobody has really demonstrated exactly what his error is. Either what he said is true or it is not. That is, either raped women get pregnant at lower rates than the general population of sexually active women or they do not. 
Steve then goes on to torture some logic until it gives up and screams, 'Todd was right!'

The proposition, remember, is that after  a 'legitimate' rape, women's bodies have 'ways to try to shut that whole thing down'. First, Steve looks at the results of two studies of pregnancy in rape victims which, by his own admission, don't provide any evidence that rape victims are any less likely to become pregnant than women who have unprotected consensual sex with men.

Undaunted, Steve reasons that 'rapists disproportionately pick fertile females' therefore, ceteris paribus, the rate of pregnancies arising from rape should exceed the rate arising from women having unprotected consensual sex with men.The fact that it doesn't shows that raped women might be shutting down their pregnancies and lets poor, maligned, Todd Akin off the hook, at least according to Steve Kellmeyer ...

Well, I'll give this guy something - at least he clutches at straws in an original way. Steve provides an actual citation to support his assertion that rapists disproportionately pick fertile females. The article in Live Science is about variations in female libido over the course of the menstrual cycle and how men respond to those changes in fertility/libido. You could crudely sum up the article as follows. On the whole, women are more promiscuous, or at least randy, during the fertile part of their cycle. Men seem able to detect when women are in this phase of their cycle and find them correspondingly more attractive. Read the whole thing here.

Whether the results cited in Live Science are reliable or not, one obvious thing stands out. The article isn't about rapists. It's about women and men in the general population. From the context, you can infer that it's about females who are in their fertile years and men who are, exclusively or partly, heterosexual.

You might also reasonably infer that, since guys who dig the ladies prefer fertile females, straight rapists might share that preference, but there's absolutely nothing here to support the assertion that rapists have any more of a thing for fertile women than the population of straight guys in general. This article neither supports nor undermines Todd Akin's assertion, but is completely irrelevant.

In a passing moment of lucidity, Kellmeyer seems to have had an inkling that he hasn't really made his case, as he concludes that 'To my knowledge, no one has done a study to determine if rapists target fertile women during their most fertile periods, so I can't tell if Akins is wrong, but no one else seems able to prove he's wrong either [my italics]'. I guess you have to come from a deeply religious perspective to roll with that one. In general, if you make an assertion, you own it and it's up to you to back it up, but the seriously pious seem to imagine that their deeply held a priori beliefs constitute an exception to this rule and that the burden of proof (or disproof) always lies with somebody else.

In a later update to his post Kellmeyer cites a slightly more credible hypothesis (albeit suggested by an entity calling itself zendog64 that sounds more like a baby sub-Limbaugh troll than any medical authority you've ever heard of). There might be something to the notion that stress might be a mechanism that stops pregnancies proceeding. It's widely accepted that stress hormones can interfere with conception and it has also been suggested that raised cortisol levels could be be related to miscarriage, although the exact role of stress hormones after conception is disputed.

It's hardly enough to warrant a claim that Akin was right all along, though. It just shows that stress might have some measurable effect on what percentage of rape victims go on to have viable pregnancies. But Todd Akin wasn't making some cautious, qualified statement about what might happen in some cases. He wouldn't be in so much trouble if he had.

He made a bold claim about a mechanism that was so effective in 'shutting down' pregnancies resulting from rape that it was 'really rare' for a woman to become pregnant as a result of rape and also implied that medical opinion was on his side ('I understand from doctors'). Only such a bold claim would make any sense in the context of the abortion debate - the effect would have to be pretty dramatic for women to rely on rape-related pregnancies spontaneously failing to proceed, rather than seeking an early abortion, should they not want to bear the rapist's child.

When asked to put up or shut up, he wasn't able to back up his confident claim, but instead asked voters to forgive him for using the 'wrong words the wrong way'. He voiced an extreme opinion and he wasn't able to back it up. His apologists have tried to back it up, but have failed, too. They still own the burden of proof and they've still failed to make their case.