I think I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m a little surprised at the reaction to Rep. Todd Akin’s idiotic and unfortunate remarks on “legitimate rape” and the theory that rape victims’ bodies somehow protect them from getting pregnant as a result of the attack.

All of us say (and do!) stupid things at one time or another. Unfortunately, more of us are caught saying them now that media are omnipresent. And politicians seem to say more than their share of things that shouldn’t have been said, as our Vice President appears all too happy to demonstrate time and again.

But Akin has a 100% voting record from the Family Research Council and the National Right to Life Committee, meaning that he’s a 100% against abortion and 100% pro-life. If you want to go after people who are pro-abortion, look no further than Catholics for Obama or Emily’s List.

Instead, people like the editors at National Review Online and others (cf. Dennis Pragerand Ann Coulter), are taking their cues from The New York Times and NPR, calling for Akin to step out of the Senate race in Missouri. In other words, those who claim to support pro-life causes are essentially making this a bigger issue than it should be.

The NYT ran a story yesterday, “Health Experts Dismiss Assertions on Rape.”

Here’s a quote from the first expert:

“There are no words for this — it is just nuts,” said Dr. Michael Greene, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School.

Shouldn’t an expert be able to point to hard facts? Maybe a study or two? Instead, “it is just nuts.” Thanks for the expert opinion.

Here’s the second expert:

Dr. David Grimes, a clinical professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina, said, that “to suggest that there’s some biological reason why women couldn’t get pregnant during a rape is absurd.”

Wow. Passing his exams must be easy. His students just have to give opinions. No science here, folks. Just keep on driving. Nothing to see.

The only reference to a reputable study? Here you go:

But several experts said there is no solid data on such issues. A 1996 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, generally considered one of the few peer-reviewed research efforts on this subject, estimated that 5 percent of rapes result in pregnancy.

To say that there’s no solid data is not the same thing as refuting a theory. The rate of births among women of fertile age is about 6%. Adjusting for miscarriage, still birth, and abortions, would make the pregnancy rates higher. The one study offering a 5% rate of pregnancy resulting from rape is hardly conclusive one way or the other.

Interestingly, when searching the terms “nytimes.com stress infertility,” The first ten articles, all from the NYT, included seven which suggested a link between the ability to get pregnant and stress. One article proclaimed no such link. Two were irrelevant.WebMD offers references to several articles supporting a connection between infertility and stress.

Now, if women trying to get pregnant are impeded by stress and the associated hormone factors, I don’t think it’s a far stretch to wonder if women who are raped might have a lesser rate of pregnancy resulting from the rape. After all, being the victim of a violent crime would be stressful, to say the least.

With regard to the use of the term “legitimate rape,” it’s a bad, bad choice of words which belies all sorts of confusion since terms like “date rape” were introduced. It’s either rape or it’s not. If it’s rape, it’s bad.

Is Akin a liability? Perhaps. But he becomes more of one when pro-lifers lead the attacks. If NPR and Mother Jones want to dissect Akin, by all means they can. There’s no secret about their ideological or political persuasions. [I don’t see how an editor at MJ is an expert on the question of conception rates for rape victims, but the experts themselves have set the bar pretty low judging from the NYT piece referenced above.] However, people who are supposed to be on the same side of the issues as Akin should not do the work of his opponents. If there are bigger liabilities than a really bad gaffe, then please enumerate them.

Aside – the whole situation makes all too clear just how defensive people can be when trying to defend a pro-life position. Rape has nothing to do with the human dignity of the fetus. Both the fetus and the mother deserve much better than rape, but neither of their lives is worth any less insofar as they are victims.