BOISE | Rep. Pete Nielsen said during a hearing on abortion Thursday that he believes a woman who is raped is unlikely to become pregnant.
Scientific consensus is that likelihood of conception has little to do with whether sex was consensual.
During a hearing on whether to require abortion providers to provide a list of places to get a free ultrasound, the Republican lawmaker from Mountain Home asked Angela Dwyer, who runs a crisis pregnancy center in Boise that doesn’t provide or recommend abortions, if she has counseled women whose pregnancies resulted from rape or incest.
“Now I’m under the understanding that in many cases of rape it doesn’t involve any pregnancy because of the trauma of the situation,” Nielsen said. “That may be true with incest a little bit.”
Women’s health advocates blasted Neilsen’s comments.
“That is absolutely scientifically and medically inaccurate,” Idaho Planned Parenthood lobbyist Hannah Brass Greer said of Nielsen’s comments, adding that other anti-abortion politicians have made similar comments before.
Brass Greer said the statement that rape is less likely to lead to pregnancy tells rape victims who become pregnant as a result that people don’t believe them.
“It’s revictimizing them,” she said. “And it’s just not doing what we need to do, which is making sure people can access the health care they need.”
Dwyer told Nielsen she has counseled 1,100 women over the past five years, and two said they had been impregnated as a result of rape.
“I’ve seen every situation imaginable,” she said.
One woman decided to keep her baby, the other placed the child for adoption.
Nielsen defended his comments after the hearing, telling the Spokane Spokesman-Review that rape is less likely to lead to pregnancy than consensual sex.
“That’s information that I’ve had through the years,” he said. “Whether it’s totally accurate or not, I don’t know. In a rape situation, there’s a lot of trauma.”
The idea that rape isn’t likely to result in pregnancy is nothing new. Ancient Greeks believed female pleasure was necessary for conception, and the principle that a sexual encounter wasn’t rape if pregnancy resulted was written into law in medieval England.
Nielsen’s comments come nearly one year after the same committee received heavy criticism when a separate Republican male committee member asked if it was possible to conduct a gynecological exam by swallowing a camera during an abortion-related hearing. Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, later said he asked the question in jest to make a point.
Missouri U.S. Rep. Todd Akin sparked a national controversy during his 2012 campaign for U.S. Senate when he said victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” He lost that election to Claire McCaskill.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said at the time that between 10,000 and 15,000 pregnancies a year in the United States are a result of reported rape and incest and called his comments “medically inaccurate, offensive and dangerous.”