Commentary: Todd Akin isn't the first politician misinformed on rape, pregnancy

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverAugust 21, 2012 

While the rest of the country is heaping ridicule and opprobrium onto Missouri Republican congressman Todd Akin’s combed-over head, we North Carolina residents should be thanking the heavens for such a gift as he.

Why? For nonsensically saying that women who are legitimately raped can’t get pregnant?

No. We should be thankful because we had a state representative make a similarly ridiculous comment nearly two decades ago. Thanks to Akin, the rest of the world can now see that this isn’t the only state that would elect someone who spouts such unscientific gobbledygook.

Several years ago, North Carolina Rep. Henry “Juiceman” Aldridge became a media sensation when he made known his extreme opposition to abortion – even in cases of rape – by declaring that women who are raped can’t get pregnant.

How come, Henry?

“The facts show,” he proclaimed, “that people who are raped – truly raped – the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work, and they don’t get pregnant,” he said.

Aldridge was a real doctor, albeit one dealing with a part of the anatomy that has nothing to do with procreation: he was a dentist from Greenville in Pitt County. After his 1995 comments, I wrote that many Tar Heels lied and said, “That’s Greenville, South Carolina, son.”

Compared to what Akin said, Aldridge almost sounds learned. In defense of his no-abortion-under-any-circumstance stance, Akin said rapes don’t usually cause pregnancies: “From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down.”

Where are these guys getting their information?

Not from Katherine Hull, that’s for sure. Hull, a spokeswoman for the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, said in a statement on the group’s website that there was a time when people “commonly believed” that pregnancy couldn’t result from rape. “(T)hat time was hundreds of years ago,” she said. “Now, we know better.”

In 2004-05, RAINN estimated, more than 3,000 pregnancies resulted from rapes – or about 5 percent of the 64,000 reported rapes.

It’s because of moldy male attitudes such as those expressed by Aldridge and Akin that RAINN estimates that 54 percent of all rapes are never reported. What woman wants to go before a cop or magistrate and have to answer whether she was “truly raped” or the rape was “legitimate”?

Despite causing many of us to lie about in which state he or we lived, Aldridge was re-elected in 1996. He left office in 1998 and died on Feb. 3, 2002.

Aldridge never completely disavowed his comments, but it would be a shame if that one goof defined his legacy. I did some research on him after his comment and upon his death, and the indisputable fact is that he did so much more in his life than famously put his foot in his mouth. He also put his money where his mouth was.

In his obituary, I saw that he, unlike some pro-lifers, seemed to care about children even after they left the womb. He was president of the Greenville Boys & Girls Club, and his family requested that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Carolina Pregnancy Center in Greenville, which provides counseling and clothing, among other things, for pregnant women.

So, yeah, Aldridge deserved the ridicule he received, but he also deserves a bit of posthumous respect.

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