Anita Law of Jacksonville, Fla., said that she was raped by an acquaintance when she was a 19-year-old student at the University of Maryland and that she got pregnant as a result of the incident. She was too traumatized to go through with the pregnancy, so she walked to a nearby abortion clinic, where she was heckled and verbally assaulted by protesters as she tried to get in the door.
"Rape is so isolating -- it ruined my world for a long time," Law, now 43, said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "If I had had to carry that rapist's baby to term, quite honestly, I might have taken my life."
Law said she couldn't believe her eyes on Sunday when she read that Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri declare in an interview that pregnancy from "legitimate rape" is "really rare" because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
"First of all, what is legitimate rape?" she asked. "Whether it's date rape, whether the woman was beaten to a pulp, whether it's a 14 or 15-year old kid carrying her father's child, it doesn't matter. Having to deliver the baby of a rapist -- that's torture."
Another rape survivor in Missouri was so incensed by Akin's comment that she called into St. Louis television station KTVI to share her feelings. "It was like I had been slapped," she told the anchor. "I heard that comment and I just began to shake. I was fit to be tied."
Pregnancies that result from rape are actually not rare. According to a 1996 study by The Medical University of South Carolina, about 5 percent of rape victims of reproductive age become pregnant from the assault, adding up to about 32,000 pregnancies each year. "Rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency," the study concluded.
Mitt Romney immediately distanced himself from Akin's comment, announcing in a statement on Sunday night that he supports abortion in cases of rape. But Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has stated that abortion should only be legal in cases where the life of the mother is at risk. Ryan co-sponsored a fetal personhood bill that would effectively criminalize abortions without an exception for rape victims.
Republicans in Congress and in state legislatures have made a serious effort over the past couple of years to outlaw abortion in cases of rape, to prevent low-income rape and incest victims from using Medicaid to pay for their abortions, and to narrow the definition of rape to only include "forcible" rape. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) recently authored a bill that would ban abortions in Washington, D.C., without an exception for rape victims, and the House Judiciary Committee approved it.
Idaho state Sen. Chuck Winder (R) recently justified his opposition to abortion in cases of rape by questioning whether women really know what rape is.
"I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by a rape," he told colleagues during a debate over an anti-abortion bill. "I assume that's part of the counseling that goes on.”
Law, who studied criminology at Maryland and worked in the criminal justice system for 14 years after her sexual assault, said she has helped a handful of rape victims who have become pregnant as a result. Akin's comment, she said, is "a perfect example of why male politicians shouldn't be legislating women's bodies."
"There is so much shame and so much societal guilt that's already placed on women around the issue of rape," she said. "Eventually, we'll evolve enough to recognize that a woman's body is sacred, and that all decisions should be hers alone."