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Duly Noted

Friday, Jun 28, 2013, 1:09 pm

The Latest Crazy Republican Arguments About Reproduction

By Lindsay Beyerstein

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Last summer, Missouri Rep. Todd Akin explained that according to 'doctors,' women's bodies can 'shut down' conception--in cases of 'legitimate rape,' that is.  

People hate and fear what they don't understand. There is no more vivid illustration of this truism than the pronouncements of the religious right on sex and reproduction. 

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) set the gold standard for medical inaccuracy when he dragged the "legitimate rape" canard onto the national stage during his senate race, leaving a perplexed nation wondering what the hell he meant. "If it's legitimate rape," Akin opined, "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

The notion that rape never results in conception was used to unfairly discredit rape allegations for hundreds of years before science discredited the idea, but the modern anti-choice movement revived this dud in a disingenuous bid to convince the public that abortion bans don't need rape exemptions. One paper in particular, contained in a 1972 volume funded by Americans United for Life, has been, uh, seminal in reviving the myth in anti-choice circles. The author's evidence for this claim ranges from a pseudoscientific "experiment" from a Nazi concentration camp to his assertion that rapists masturbate too much to get their victims pregnant. The backlash against Akin's "legitimate rape" probably cost him the senate race. Akin's claim became the best known of a series of ignorant and condescending remarks about women's health by Republican candidates in 2012 that helped discredit Republicans in the eyes of women voters. 

This month, as Texas debated an anti-abortion bill, anti-choice Republicans have been spouting misinformation so fast and so furiously that it's difficult to keep all the myths straight. For your reference, I offer this handy crib sheet of the latest Republican reproduction howlers. 

  1.  "Accurate" Intercourse. Texas State Senator Bob Deuell, a medical doctor, stated during Sen. Wendy Davis's 13-hour filibuster of the draconian anti-abortion bill known as SB-5 that pregnancy only results from "accurate intercourse." If by "accurate" Deuell means "in the right hole," his assertion could be the most accurate pronouncement on this list. Perhaps he meant that slapdash inattention to sexual detail is what's wrong with this country, but that seems like an odd message for a conservative Republican. 

  2. Roto-Rooter Rape Kits. Not content to rest on the standard anti-choice myths that birth control pills and emergency contraception cause abortions, Texas state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R) claimed that rape kits do, too: "[T]he emergency rooms they have what’s called rape kits, that the woman can get cleaned out, basically like a D&C," she said during floor debate on SB5. As any Law & Order SVU fan could tell you, rape kits are for collecting forensic evidence. Rape victims who seek medical attention may also be offered emergency contraception in addition to the forensic exam, but EC is just high-dose birth control to prevent pregnancy. 

  3. Rep. Fappingfetus. Congressman Michael Burgess (R-Texas), a former OB-GYN, argued that abortion should be banned at 15 weeks because that's when male fetuses start masturbating in utero. Burgess claims to have seen the evidence with his own eyes on sonograms. There are documented cases of much older fetuses touching themselves in utero, but the idea that fetuses masturbate at 15 weeks is physiologically far-fetched. At 15 weeks of pregnancy, the sex of the fetus has only recently became discernible by ultrasound, it is still forming its bones from cartilage, and it weighs only 4 ounces. Quickening--fetal movement detectable by the mother--doesn't usually happen until Week 20. Now that the cat's out of the bag of waters, so to speak, expect Burgess to launch a campaign to punish permissive moms who let their fetuses masturbate in utero.

It's depressing to think that these befuddled folks think they know better than women and their doctors when it comes to health care.

But take heart: If it's legitimate bullshit, the female brain has ways of shutting that whole thing down.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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