Let’s say that I rape you. Hypothetically, I mean, let us suppose that this happens. Let us suppose also that (i) I am a fertile man, (ii) you are a fertile, ovulating woman, (iii) while I am raping you, some of my sperm ends up inside one of your fallopian tubes–perhaps to make this more concrete, in case your imagination is failing you, suppose this happens when I forcibly insert my penis into your vagina and fuck you until I ejaculate–(iv) one of my sperm cells fertilizes one of your ova, (v) the zygote travels down your fallopian tube, eventually lodging in the walls of your uterus, and (vi) you end up with an embryo growing inside of your body.
There exists this guy. Let us call him Schmoe. Schmoe is trying to become a senator in one of the middle states, and he says that it should be illegal in the US for you to have a doctor remove that embryo, which was forcibly put there by me, even if you don’t want it to stay there, inside of your private, ravaged body. He says that you should have to nourish it and let it grow there, disrupting your life for the next several months until you naturally give birth to it as a fully-developed baby. Then, after hearing its first cries, if you can’t or don’t want to care for it for another 20 years, well, that is not Schmoe’s problem. He is not the one who raped or was raped.
You might think that I want to talk about why Schmoe says these things. I don’t. Just so that we can move along, let us suppose that he finds it impossible to empathize with your situation and wants to tell you how to live your life because he doesn’t know how to make a living doing anything else. Better yet, let’s suppose that he simply doesn’t give a shit about you. I want to talk instead about some statements that he presented as facts about your situation of having a rape-induced pregnancy:
“It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
You might think that I want to talk about what the frequency of rape-induced pregnancy has to do with the morality, rationality, or legality of not letting a rape victim abort her rapist’s baby. I don’t. Let us suppose that they have exactly shit to do with each other. You might also think that I want to talk about how he distinguishes legitimate rapes from middling rapes or quasi-rapes. I don’t. Let us suppose that your rape was violent, bloody, full-blown Rape rape. I didn’t just threaten to harm you but also tied you up and crushed your larynx so you could not run away or scream for help. Let us suppose also that we were not married or dating so that we don’t have to talk about whether Rape rape, Rape, or rape are possible in those situations. Let us also suppose that you Feel felt Rape raped so that we don’t have to talk about the possibility that you got pregnant because your body and/or mind didn’t feel like it was legitimately raped and so did not employ its natural defenses. That should save us from all of the distractions.
I want to talk about how Schmoe might have come to believe that an ovulating female body has a mechanism to prevent pregnancy when semen carrying sperm from its rapist is injected into its vagina during Rape rape. I don’t care if Schmoe in fact believes this or not. Let us suppose that he believes it. Hopefully, my comments up to this point have purged enough of my disappointment and disgust with the issues surrounding this question that I can be serious and understanding starting… now.
The consensus from the dozen or so articles that I perused on this topic is that Schmoe’s belief is false. He apparently made a mistake somewhere and ended up with a seriously inaccurate belief. So where exactly was his mistake, and is everyone else adequately protected from making a similar one? Am I?
The first question I have is whether Schmoe was lying or if there are indeed doctors who have said these things. I doubted that the latter was possible, but it turns out that there is a doctor, John C. Willke, who has made such claims. In one article, he concludes (after presenting very rough and unsourced statistics), “assault rape pregnancy is extremely rare.” I am not linking to any articles because my brain doesn’t link to articles when it forms beliefs, and the point of this exercise is to think about how I form beliefs. Willke claims there and elsewhere that the physical and emotional trauma of forcible (Rape) rape disrupts a woman’s normal functioning sufficiently to make pregnancy less likely. He suggested hormones as the mechanism for this, and someone somewhere said something about the fallopian tubes tightening or spasming and thus preventing sperm from traveling down them during a rape. Willke is not the only medical person saying such things.
To someone who is not an expert on female human reproductive physiology, I think that this explanation does sound plausible. The human body is complex enough that any number of things could happen and sound plausible, and unless you have the resources to do the tests yourself, you have to rely on professionals and experts. I’m not aware of anyone that can start from first principles and deduce what a human body will do.
So maybe Schmoe trusted the wrong experts. How could he have known? How do I know that my experts are the right ones? Maybe there is more to it. Maybe he wasn’t careful or critical enough when listening to their ideas. Maybe he was lazy or dishonest and believed what was most convenient to believe. Am I any better?
When I first heard Schmoe’s claims, they didn’t fit with my other beliefs, so I googled to get statistics and the reactions of medical people, handpicked six articles that looked promising, and ended up with the reported opinions of three people reported to be experts and two quotes of statistics from the same study. The study was from 1996 (I think) and said that the rate of pregnancy from rape is around 5% (I think), which is not terribly far from Willke’s claim of a 1-2% rate. They gave no information about how this compares to, say, the rate of pregnancy from consensual sex, so this information is almost worthless to me. They claimed simply that pregnancy from rape is not “rare”, whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. The experts said that Schmoe’s and Willke’s claims are ridiculous and that females can still get pregnant as a result of rape because everything still works. They didn’t mention any observations or cite any studies. One person claimed that there is no known mechanism to prevent pregnancy in such a situation. Should this be enough to lull me into believing what they say?
I think that this normally would have satisfied me enough to conclude that Schmoe and Willke are very probably wrong. It is my usual habit to believe a reasonably credible source that makes claims that fit with my other beliefs. I don’t usually check anyone’s credentials or background, and I only look for hidden agendas in obvious cases. I accept many things on faith and hunches in order to make progress and not be permanently stalled in life. I select new beliefs based upon old beliefs without rechecking the old ones. Maybe there are some really old beliefs at the bottom that are crap and wouldn’t pass muster now. Maybe there are some that I’ve never critically examined. I don’t know. Maybe Schmoe and I have been behaving the same in these respects, and maybe I could have fucked up here just as easily as he did. Maybe you could have too.
So maybe we should show Schmoe some compassion instead of ridiculing him. Maybe we shouldn’t be so accepting of plausible explanations offered by strangers with credentials, or more accurately, of reports of explanations offered by strangers that presumably know something about the topic. And maybe everyone should be a bit more fucking humble and admit that the world is REALLY COMPLICATED and we are REALLY FALLIBLE. And maybe people shouldn’t be so convinced that they know what’s right and best for everyone else. And maybe I shouldn’t read the news because it just ends up pissing me off that I have to share my world with people who aren’t as enlightened and merciful as I am. Maybe this is why Socrates claimed to not know anything. Or maybe he never did claim that. WHO FUCKING KNOWS?