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The disputed medical roots of Akin’s rape remarks

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On Monday, the Review’s editors called for Akin to quit the race, saying there was "no evidence for Akin’s biological claim."

The dissemination of Mecklenburg’s article may have had more to do with the influence of the doctor’s wife, Marjory, an early opponent of abortion rights who was a chairwoman of the National Right to Life Committee, an adviser to Gerald Ford’s 1976 presidential campaign and director of the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs in the administration of President Ronald Reagan.

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Today, Fred Mecklenburg is the former chairman of the OB/GYN department at Inova Women’s Hospital in Falls Church, Va. He did not return a call seeking comment.

Mecklenburg’s article, and the statistics cited in it, have been used again and again in the decades since.

Hadley Arkes, Amherst College political science professor and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, cited the Buffalo statistic in his 1986 book, First Things: An Inquiry Into the First Principles of Morals and Justice.

"The number of pregnancies resulting from rape in this country is minuscule," Arkes concluded. "In addition, the fear induced by rape may interrupt the normal operation in hormones in the body of the woman, which in turn may prevent ovulation and conception."

That kind of scholarly declaration has proved irresistible to some politicians.

In 1988, Pennsylvania state Rep. Stephen Freind told a radio interviewer that the odds of a woman becoming pregnant after being raped "are one in millions and millions and millions." The trauma of the rape, Freind explained, causes a woman to "secrete a certain secretion, which has a tendency to kill sperm."

His source, Freind said, was a "Dr. Mecklenburg."

In 1995, North Carolina state Rep. Henry Aldridge told the state House appropriations committee that when women are "truly raped ... the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant."

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Christian websites such as Physicians for Life and Christian Life Resources also have posted a 1999 article by J.C. Willke, a physician who was president of the National Right to Life Committee in the 1980s.

"There’s no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape," Willke wrote. "This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization and implantation."

Jill Powell, a gynecologist at St. Louis University, said misinformation about pregnancy can add to the psychological stress after a sexual assault.

"If someone has heard that medically there’s some reason they may not be at risk for pregnancy if they’ve been sexually assaulted," Powell said, "maybe it would deter them from disclosing information or seeking medical help."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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