When public officials make statements that are scientifically inaccurate, it plants a bad seed. Missouri Representative Todd Akin (R) made a statement on Sunday that in cases of “legitimate rape,” pregnancy can be prevented by the female body. That is untrue and very alarming.
As a physician, I know that pregnancy is the result of the union of a sperm and egg during a specific time in the menstrual cycle when fertilization can occur. Fertilization is the result of intricate hormonal signals that set necessary steps in motion. Rep. Akin said, “the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.” This is a myth and we physicians need to dispel it with facts.
In the United States, nearly half of the 6.7 million pregnancies that occur each year are unplanned. If women could indeed “shut down” their fertility, wouldn’t they be using that skill more often to avoid unwanted pregnancies?
In reality, they can’t, because it’s scientifically and physiologically impossible. When our public officials make statements that are not medically accurate but simply based on their political views, misinformation is propagated. Rep. Akin’s statements on rape and resulting pregnancy are a perfect example of this. Further insinuating that his information came from “doctors” gives his statement authority that it should not have.
Evidence shows that one of the most effective methods of pregnancy prevention after sex is emergency contraception, or the morning-after pill. Currently, if you are 17 years and older, you can obtain emergency contraception at a pharmacy over-the-counter without a prescription.
Yet despite numerous scientific studies proving that emergency contraception is safe and works by preventing fertilization, and despite its FDA approval, controversy around this medication still exists and is propagated when public officials falsely claim that the morning-after pill is an abortifacient. This misinformation surrounding the morning-after pill creates obstacles for people who are legally allowed to purchase it.
It is important to take emergency contraception as soon as possible because its efficacy decreases with time. Thus, any delay in obtaining it will increase the odds that a pregnancy will occur. Emergency contraception should be available to all sexual assault survivors, yet because of political interference in medical care, it’s not consistently offered in emergency rooms.
As a pediatrician, my research focuses on adolescents’ access to this medication. I began doing this research because patients were telling me that despite being legally able to obtain this medication, they were not able to do so or artificial barriers were put up to prevent them from getting the medication in a timely manner. The main reason that these barriers to access exist? Misinformation.
Although there has been a huge outcry as a result of his statement and multiple sources disputing his claims—his statement, and similar statements, are already out there for people to hear and read as they get replayed on the news cycles and all over the Internet. A bad seed has been planted for misinformation now.
Knowing how misinformation has greatly affected access to emergency contraception years after the FDA has approved it, one has to wonder what new barriers have been created for rape survivors as a result of Rep. Akin’s comments.