A search of news archives by TPM shows a short history of Republican politicians espousing the idea of a biological defense against pregnancy in cases of rape, though there’s little consistency in their explanations of how such a mechanism works.
In 1988, Stephen Freind, a state representative in Pennsylvania, defended his no-exceptions anti-abortion stance — as Akin was doing Sunday — by claiming that it was virtually impossible for a woman who is raped to become pregnant.
“The odds are one in millions and millions and millions,” Freind said in a debate in March of that year. “And there is a physical reason for that.”
Freind said that women possess a “certain secretion” that kills sperm.
“Rape, obviously, is a traumatic experience. When that traumatic experience is undergone, a woman secretes a certain secretion, which has a tendency to kill sperm.”
Freind promised to provide scientific documentation of his theory and told a cheering crowd later that month, “If you’re expecting me to back off, the answer is no.”
Seven years later, a state legislator in North Carolina championed the same theory. Henry Aldridge, a Republican state representative, argued for the elimination of a public fund to help poor women pay for abortions by using a similar argument.
“The facts show that people who are raped — who are truly raped — the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant,” Aldridge told the House Appropriations Committee. “Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever.”
Aldridge was addressing the committee to apologize for “earlier remarks implying that victims of rape or incest are sexually promiscuous,” according to an Associated Press report at the time.
Aldridge, like Freind, did not back down. “To get pregnant, it takes a little cooperation. And there ain’t much cooperation in a rape,” he said.
In 1998, Republican Arkansas state Rep. Fay Boozman botched his own Senate bid against Sen. Blanche Lincoln when he said at a rally that pregnancy resulting from rape was rare. He denied having used the phrase “God’s little shield,” according to the Washington Post.
The next year, Mike Huckabee, then governor of Arkansas, appointed his good friend Boozman to lead the state’s Health Department. Upon becoming health director, Boozman apologized for the comments, saying they were “not statistically based.”
Huckabee, who opposes abortion even in cases of rape, endorsed Akin in the Missouri primary.
Akin, who earlier this month won the Republican Senate nomination in Missouri, said he “misspoke” in a follow-up statement, but he did not disavow the substance of his comments except to acknowledge that rape can in fact result in pregnancy.
One abortion-rights activist said publicizing the false theory can cause even further trauma to rape victims.
“The first time I heard it or saw anything about it it was in a chat room,” Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, told TPM. O’Neill recalled that a woman in the chat room said she “struggled to deal with the shame of her sexual assault because she had heard that she was not supposed to get pregnant and that her body sort of had betrayed her.”
“It was a number of years ago,” O’Neill said, “But I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my God that poor woman, where did she hear this?’”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Stephen Freind’s home state. He represented Delaware County, Pa.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.