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More Wisdom from the Guy Who Brought You “Rape Can’t Get You Pregnant”

As many have pointed out, Rep. Todd Akin’s insistence that woman cannot become pregnant through rape did not come from nowhere.

Principally, it’s an idea that comes from a man by the name of Dr. John C. Willke—a general practitioner who was president of the National Right to Life Committee for about a decade. Willke spent much of the ’80s spreading the demonstrable falsehood that women have surefire biological defenses against rape. And on Monday, when his name started coming up, he wasn’t backing down.

“This is a traumatic thing—she’s, shall we say, she’s uptight,” Willke told the New York Times yesterday. “She is frightened, tight, and so on. And sperm, if deposited in her vagina, are less likely to be able to fertilize. The tubes are spastic.”

Willke, if you’re curious, endorsed Romney’s 2008 presidential run—a fact Romney freely boasted about at the time. “I am proud to have the support of a man who has meant so much to the pro-life movement in our country,” Romney said in a 2007 release, according to the New York Daily News. “He knows how important it is to have someone in Washington who will actively promote pro-life policies.”

But “rape can’t get you pregnant” is not the only scientifically suspect notion for which Willke has been a standard-bearer. Here are a few more:

Legalizing abortion didn’t make abortion safer

In Willke’s world, moving abortion procedures from illegal venues to facilities with medically licensed professionals didn’t make any difference to the health of women. As Willke told an Associated Press reporter in a 1989 interview: “If, in fact, the elimination of illegal abortion eliminated back alleys, there should have been a perceptible drop in the number of women dying. That didn’t happen. The line didn’t even blip from 1967 to 1973 and 1974. ... It just kept going down at the same slow rate. There was no evidence of a decline in mortality from legalization.”

How Willke hit upon that line of reasoning is a bit of a mystery, as he acknowledged, in the same article, that “nobody has the slightest idea” how many abortions were performed annually in the U.S. before the year 1973.

In any event, evidence that his claim was totally bunk was readily available by 1989. In March of 1987, the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology published a study which read, in part, “Between 1972 and 1982 … [t]he overall death rate resulting from legal abortion dropped nearly fivefold, from 4.1 per 100,000 abortions in 1972 to 0.8 in 1982.”

But agree or disagree, Willke told the reporter that this will all be a moot point once the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Why? Because we’ve licensed and trained so many abortion providers under the current legal framework—the same one he’d like us all to abandon.

“[T]his time around, illegal abortions will be considerably safer than they were,” Willke said. “People who do them have had a great deal of experience.”


The ‘abortion pill’ causes cancer

In 1988, as American officials debated  whether to allow the use of RU 486, the "abortion pill," in the United States, Willke urged against it. This was for both the obvious reason—the drug is an abortifacient—and a more surprising one: Willke said it caused cancer. From a 1988 UPI article:

“Willke claims the drug has a chemical structure similar to the cancer-causing hormone diethylstilbestrol (DES), suggesting it could cause malignancies.”

While that may sound reasoned and technical, it’s horsefeathers. The article continues:

“‘To suggest that because it has a ring structure that is somewhat analogous to DES is a mistatement. Biologically it’s not similar to DES. It’s very, very different,’ said [Dr. David A. Grimes, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Southern California], the only U.S. researcher studying the drug as an abortion pill.”

The scientific method has no place in science

In January of 1989, U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop reported to President Reagan that he was abandoning an inquiry into the long-term health effects of abortion because there wasn’t enough relevant data. Reproductive scientists nationwide pitched a collective fit, many authorities among them pointing out that there was plenty of great, conclusive evidence that long-term negative physical and mental health effects were absent in most women who’d had abortions. It just so happened that this evidence went against the conservative Republicans’ preferred conclusion. 

Willke was miffed, too, but for different reasons. In another of his wonderful contradictions, he told the New York Times, “We can’t fault what he said in the letter, which is basically that we need better and more definitive studies,” Dr. Willke said. “But I do not agree with Dr. Koop that there is not enough data to draw conclusions about abortion.”

And what data did Koop overlook? From the Times article: “Dr. Willke said there had been undocumented reports from abortion counseling services that tens of thousands of clients had suffered severe emotional problems years later … Dr. Willke said anecdotal reports should not be ignored, as Dr. Koop appears to have done.”

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