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Does 'Legitimate Rape' Really Inhibit Pregnancy?

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin's Sunday comments about "legitimate rape" prompt questions about definitions of rape—such as forcible/assault rape versus date rape and statutory rape—as well as whether females can get pregnant in all incidences of rape.

Is it possible for a female body to react differently to forcible sexual assaults versus date rape? Are there different "kinds" of rape? Isn't "rape" rape?

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin said he misspoke about the topic in a St. Louis-based TV interview on Sunday when asked if he would support abortion in cases of rape, yet strong reactions to his interview remarks continue rumbling on Monday.

Akin's comments on Sunday suggesting "legitimate rape" would not cause a woman to get pregant raced like wildfire, even causing Nate Silver, the New York Times election forecaster, to change his mind about the momentum of the related U.S. Senate race.

Akin, a Republican, is running for the Senate against incumbent Claire McCaskill. In an interview with FOX2 that aired on Sunday with Charles Jaco, Akin explained his position against abortion, even in cases of rape:

"First of all, from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy) is really rare” in rape cases, Akin told Jaco. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, whose seat Akin seeks in November, responded on Twitter that as a woman and former prosecutor who handled hundreds of rape cases, she was "stunned" by Akin's comments. She later released a statement calling the comments "offensive."

Rapes Equal Pregnancies?

Rape occurs when sexual intercourse is non-consensual (not agreed upon), or a person forces another person to have sex against his or her will. It also can occur when the victim is intoxicated from alcohol or drugs, according to definitions shared by medical and law enforcement staffs. Date rape is when one person forces another person to have sex, even though the victim knows the attacker socially. But can all rapes lead to pregnancies?

Patch asked several St. Louis-based hospital groups for medical expertise regarding whether female bodies can somehow medically ward off pregnancy during rape.

"As a Catholic health care organization we are choosing not to comment on this topic," said Bethany Pope, senior media relations specialist with Mercy Hospital St. Louis.

Patients First, now part of the Mercy system, also declined to comment.

"I’m sorry that I don’t have a physician who is available to talk on this topic today. However, it may be more appropriate to speak with an academic physician who can provide more depth to your article," said Diane McKillip, SSM HealthCare.

Laura Checkett, media coordinator for Planned Parenthood of St. Louis and Southwest Missouri Region, told Patch via email at 10:55 a.m. Monday that a news release would be issued about the matter later today.

George Macones, M.D., chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Washington University is quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Monday as saying: "There is no evidence anywhere to support such a statement. It is so disappointing to hear a public official speak without knowledge on such a sensitive subject."

A national source being cited by individuals is Christian Life Resources, specifically an online article entitled: Rape Pregnancies Are Rare. The article, which is authored by John C. Willke, M.D., states assault rape pregnancies are extremely rare.

Willke cites many statistics, but said that "there are no more than one or two pregnancies resultant from every 1,000 forcible rapes."

One International Medical Opinion

Stress and infertility have long been linked, with stress sometimes blamed when a woman can't get pregnant naturally or with fertility treatments. But one study published online in BMJ in 2011 found a woman's stress levels don't adversely affect her chances of getting pregnant in a single fertility treatment cycle.

''A lot of people worry that their stress, anxiety, tension, and worry might reduce their chances of pregnancy with a specific treatment cycle, but there is no evidence of that," said researcher Jacky Boivin, PhD, a health psychologist at Cardiff University in Wales. Boivin's team evaluated  the results of 14 previously published studies.

The researchers aren't saying stress never has an effect on fertility treatment, Boivin told WebMD. "All [the research] is saying is, whatever stress you are experiencing is not going to impact whether you get pregnant on that particular cycle."

But U.S.-based experts, including Alice D. Domar, director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health in Boston, who has researched infertility, say the stress and infertility link is inconclusive, according to the WebMD article.

"I think it's way too early to say stress has no impact on outcome, or to say stress does have an impact," she says. The Boivin report, she said, ''counters the majority of the research."

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