SBA List Merges With Group That Promoted False Claims About Pregnancy From Rape

Then-Rep. Todd Akin apologizes for his comments about pregnancy by "legitimate rape" in an ad for his 2012 Senate campaign. (Screenshot from ad)

The leading anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List announced yesterday that it was merging with Life Issues Institute, a small organization that was founded by an early leader in the anti-abortion movement, the late Jack Willke. Willke played an influential role in shaping the anti-abortion movement, but became more widely known as the chief proponent of the medically unfounded idea that a woman who is raped is unlikely to become pregnant, an idea that his successor at Life Issues Institute has continued to promote.

In 2012, then-Rep. Todd Akin, who was running for Senate in Missouri, dismissed the need for rape exceptions to abortion bans by claiming that in cases of “legitimate rape,” “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”—i.e. to prevent pregnancy. This belief that women who are raped are unlikely to get pregnant as a result was widespread in the anti-choice movement and was often sourced back to Willke’s writings.

After Akin made his comments, Willke defended his claims in an interview with The New York Times:

“This is a traumatic thing — she’s, shall we say, she’s uptight,” Dr. Willke said of a woman being raped, adding, “She is frightened, tight, and so on. And sperm, if deposited in her vagina, are less likely to be able to fertilize. The tubes are spastic.”

Brad Mattes, who is now the president of Life Issues Institute, also defended Akin’s comments, telling far-right radio host Bryan Fischer that during a rape, there is “a great deal of anxiety and hormones being released that would prevent [a woman] from becoming pregnant,” so “it stands to reason” that few women become pregnant after being raped:

An email from SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser announcing the merger says that Life Issues Institute will become the group’s “education arm.”