Rape Pregnancies Are RareJohn C. Willke, M.D.
Life Issues Connector, April 1999, Reprinted with permission
CLR NOTE: View the CLR statement dated August 21, 2012, on the Akin controversy by clicking here.
First, let's define the term "rape." When pro-lifers speak of rape pregnancies, we should commonly use the phrase "forcible rape" or "assault rape," for that specifies what we're talking about. Rape can also be statutory. Depending upon your state law, statutory rape can be consensual, but we're not addressing that here.
A relatively new category is "date rape." For some reason this is supposed to be different, but, forcible rape is rape, regardless of whether it occurs on a date or behind the bushes. If a college woman is raped on a date, she should undergo a medical examination and treatment, just as she would in the aftermath of an assault rape. It is not a separate category.
Assault rape pregnancies are extremely rare. Most pro-lifers have heard this comment, but too often cannot back it up with facts. A candidate for office in the State of Arkansas made this comment before the last elections. He was roundly criticized and ridiculed by the opposing candidate and the media. Unfortunately, there was no evidence that he offered substantive proof to back up his claim that rape pregnancies were rare.
How many forcible rapes result in a pregnancy? The numbers claimed have ranged the entire spectrum of possibilities. Some feminists have claimed as high as 5 to 10 percent, which is absurd. One problem has been the lack of available studies and accurate statistics. Often women do not admit to having been raped. On the other hand, it has been known that women, pregnant from consensual intercourse, have later claimed rape. Is it possible to know the actual facts?
There have been some studies. In the statistical abstract of the US in 1989, there were 90,000 rapes reported in the United States. (Bureau of Census Table #283)
Another study was from the U.S. Justice Department, which surveyed 49,000 households annually between the years 1973-1987. In 1973, it reported 95,934 completed rapes. In 1987, the figure was 82,505. The study stated that only 53% were reported to police. Factoring this in, the totals were 181,000 rapes in 1973 and 155,000 in 1987. In August 1995, the US Justice Department, using a different study with different questions, returned a result of 170,000 completed rapes plus 140,000 attempted rapes.
There are approximately 100,000,000 females old enough to be at risk for rape in the United States. If we calculate on the basis of 100,000 rapes, that means that one woman in 1,000 is raped each year. If we calculate on the basis of 200,000 rapes, that means that one woman in 500 is raped each year.
Now for the important question. How many rape pregnancies are there? The answer is that, according to statistical reporting, there are no more than one or two pregnancies resultant from every 1,000 forcible rapes.
But, does it make sense? Let's look, using the figure of 200,000 rapes each year.
- Of the 200,000 women who were forcibly raped, one-third were either too old or too young to get pregnant. That leaves 133,000 at risk for pregnancy.
- A woman is capable of being fertilized only 3 days (perhaps 5) out of a 30-day month. Multiply our figure of 133,000 by three tenths. Three days out of 30 is one out of ten, divide 133 by ten and we have 13,300 women remaining. If we use five days out of 30 it is one out of six. Divide one hundred and thirty three thousand by six and we have 22,166 remaining.
- One-fourth of all women in the United States of childbearing age have been sterilized, so the remaining three-fourths come out to 10,000 (or 15,000).
- Only half of assailants penetrate her body and/or deposit sperm in her vagina,1 so let's cut the remaining figures in half. This gives us numbers of 5,000 (or 7,500).
- Fifteen percent of men are sterile, that drops that figure to 4,250 (or 6,375).
- Fifteen percent of non-surgically sterilized women are naturally sterile. That reduces the number to 3,600 (or 5,400).
- Another fifteen percent are on the pill and/or already pregnant. That reduces the number to 3,070 (or 4,600).
- Now factor in the fact that it takes 5-10 months for the average couple to achieve a pregnancy. Use the smaller figure of 5 months to be conservative and divide the avove figures by 5. The number drops to 600 (or 920).
- In an average population, the miscarriage rate is about 15 percent. In this case we have incredible emotional trauma. Her body is upset. Even if she conceives, the miscarriage rate will be higher than in a more normal pregnancy. If 20 percent of raped women miscarry, the figure drops to 450 (or 740).
Finally, factor in what is certainly one of the most important reasons why a rape victim rarely gets pregnant, and that's physical trauma.
Every woman is aware that stress and emotional factors can alter her menstrual cycle. To get and stay pregnant a woman's body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones. Hormone production is controlled by a part of the brain that is easily influenced by emotions. There's no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape. This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy.So what further percentage reduction in pregnancy will this cause? No one knows, but this factor certainly cuts this last figure by at least 50 percent and probably more. If we use the 50 percent figure, we have a final figure of 225 (or 370) women pregnant each year. These numbers closely match the 200 that have been documented in clinical studies.
So assault rape pregnancy is extremely rare. If we use the figure of 200, it is 4 per state per year. Even if we use a figure of 500, we're talking about only ten per state, per year. In the United States in one year, there are more than 6 million pregnancies. Roughly 3 million eventuate in live birth, 1.5 million are aborted and 500,000 miscarry. And so while each assault rape pregnancy is a tragedy for the mother (not for the baby, though), we can with confidence say that such pregnancies amount to a minuscule fraction of the total annual pregnancies in the United States. Further, less than half of assault rape pregnancies are aborted, even though that course of action tends to be vigorously pushed by those around the woman. 2,3
One final thought, Sandra Mahkorn, in two excellent studies, has asked such women what was their chief complaint? One might fully assume it was the fact that she was pregnant, but that is incorrect. Her chief complaint was how other people treated her. Such treatment ranged from negative, to simply getting little support from those around her. Even in a culture that offers little support and aggressively pushes abortion as a solution, fewer that half of such babies are killed by abortion. Think of how many fewer yet there would be if each pregnant victim of a rape were given the support, aid and tender loving care that she and her baby deserve.
Our goal is to offer truly compassionate care to the woman. That is what is best for both mother and child.
1 New England Journal of Medicine, A.N. Groth, Sexual DyFORBESSunction [sic] During Rape, Oct. 6, 1977, p.764-6
2 Mahkorn & Dolan, "Sexual Assault & Pregnancy." In New Perspectives on Human Abortion, University Publisher of Amer., 1981, pp.182-199
3 Mahkorn, "Pregnancy & Sexual Assault." In Psychological Aspects of Abortion, University Publishers of Amer., 1979, pp. 53-72
By J. C. Willke, MD,
reprinted with permission from 4/99 Life Issues Connector
reprinted with permission from 4/99 Life Issues Connector