Meet the GOP's Newest Rape Philosopher

Rep. Pete Nielsen denies that rape causes pregnancy, a myth that exposes the misogynist beliefs of anti-choicers

Pete Nielsen
Photo Credit: (Credit: AP/Otto Kitsinger)

After claiming that “legitimate rape” doesn’t cause pregnancy, Todd Akin went down in electoral defeat in a close race with Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2012. You would think that his loss, along with the electoral thumping that all the “rape philosophers” of the GOP got that year, would cause other Republicans to run screaming out of the room rather than allow themselves to ever go on record again saying something about rape and pregnancy.

And yet here is Idaho state legislator Pete Nielsen, defending yet another anti-choice bill during legislative hearings, as reported by the Spokesman-Review. “Now, I’m of the understanding that in many cases of rape it does not involve any pregnancy because of the trauma of the incident,” he added.

“That may be true with incest a little bit,” he added, helpfully reminding everyone about the vein of perviness undergirding anti-choice amateur gynecological musings.

“Being a father of five girls, I’ve explored this a lot,” he said, so that your skin will not stop crawling for the rest of the day.

The idea that rape works as contraception continues to be as untrue as it was when Akin said it. The chance of impregnation from rape is roughly the same odds as impregnation from any act of  intercourse. If anything, the odds of impregnation from rape are higher, because consensual intercourse is almost surely more likely to involve contraception use.

This myth is both pure nonsense and electoral kryptonite, so why does it keep cropping up? After decades of failing to end legal abortion by fetishizing embryonic life, the anti-choice movement changed strategies, arguing instead that legal abortion needs to be ended to protect women. In service of this, they’ve constructed this myth that no woman really wants an abortion and every woman who gets an abortion is either coerced or deluded. The assumption is that God made women to bear children and, in their natural state, women just want to be having all the babies all the time. And so any woman who says no to childbirth is assumed to be broken and the only way to fix her is to force childbirth on her, which will cause her to see the light.

Under the circumstance, it’s easy to see why the existence of rape-caused pregnancies might disturb their neat little theory. It’s hard enough to sell the notion that all women, deep down inside, want to be pregnant right this minute. It’s even harder to argue that women want to have babies by rapists. And so the only thing anti-choicers can do is simply deny that this problem ever comes up.

This myth, that women secretly want to be pregnant all the time, is the driving force behind the Supreme Court case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, that’s being argued on Wednesday. The official argument of the state of Texas is that a series of regulations of abortion clinics, including mandatory hospital admitting privileges and requiring hospital-style surgical suites in every abortion clinic, are necessary to protect women’s health, but no one, probably not even the lawyers making this argument, actually believes that.

Both the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have come out against the law, pointing out there is no medical reason for these expensive and often impossible requirements. It’s clear the purpose of the law is to shut down clinics and to make it impossible for women in the state to get safe, legal abortions.

The anti-choice rallying point around the case basically ignores the specifics of the regulations, focusing arguments instead on this notion that women need to be “protected” from abortion and forced, for their own good, to have babies instead. The slogan behind anti-choice rallying efforts around the case is “Protect them both“.


Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. She's on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte. 

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