Republican congressional nominee Yesli Vega last month downplayed the likelihood of a woman becoming pregnant via sexual assault in audio recordings obtained by Axios. Vega, who is running against incumbent Abigail Spanberger in Virginia’s liberal-leaning 7th District, has been a vocal opponent of abortion rights.
In the audio, an unidentified source asks Vega if she’d heard that women who are sexually assaulted are less likely to become pregnant because their body “shuts down” in some way. Vega responded “maybe” because “there’s so much going on in the body.”
“I don’t know,” she continued. “I haven’t, you know, seen any studies. But if I’m processing what you’re saying, it wouldn’t surprise me. Because it’s not something that’s happening organically. You’re forcing it. The individual, the male, is doing it as quickly … and so I can see why there is truth to that. It’s unfortunate.”
Vega did not immediately respond to an email seeking clarification on whether she believes women’s bodies can “shut down” to stop a pregnancy in the event of a sexual assault.
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The question, and Vega’s response, echoes a long-standing myth anti-choice politicians have used to skirt discussions of the rights of women who have become pregnant through sexual assault. In 2012, Missouri Rep. Todd Atkins infamously claimed that women who went through “legitimate rape” were unlikely to become pregnant, claiming female bodies had a way to “shut the whole thing down.”
Supporters of Atkins claimed he had been misinformed by a 1999 article written by the former National Right to Life Committee President Dr. John C. Willke. Willke wrote that in order “to get and stay pregnant a woman’s body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones … There’s no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape. This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy.”
Experts agree that while extended periods of stress can affect a woman’s fertility, instances of acute stress do not produce the same effect. Fundamentally, the absurd claim serves as a mechanism through which responsibility for reproduction, both consensual and non-consensual, is placed entirely on women by arguing that if a woman became pregnant after an assault she must not have actually been assaulted.
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