Like most ideas that right wingers espouse, Todd Akin’s perspective on women being incapable of conceiving a child during a “legitimate rape” has long roots in history. Specifically, medieval, Victorian and…yes, indeed, NAZI history.
This idea has been around for some time, following the notion that a female orgasm was a prerequisite for pregnancy, and that if an orgasm occurred during rape…well, she was just a slut. This was once so accepted a doctrine that in 13th century British legal texts, pregnancy following a rape was disproof of rape: “If, however, the woman should have conceived at the time alleged in the appeal, it abates, for without a woman’s consent she could not conceive.”
As late as 1814, Samuel Farr’s Elements of medical Jurisprudence said this: “For without an excitation of lust, or the enjoyment of pleasure in the venereal act, no conception can probably take place. So that if an absolute rape were to be perpetrated, it is not likely she would become pregnant.”
And then, In Nazi Germany, THIS happened.
Like many intellectuals of the time, Dr. Hermann Stieve never officially joined the Nazi party. But he was an outspoken German nationalist, and supported Adolf Hitler as a means to restoring Germany’s national pride and standing in the world.
Stieve was primarily an internalist who was interested in organs — particularly female reproductive organs. Stieve’s affair with the Nazis really began when he found himself short of viable dissection subjects, which were in short supply before Hitler took office, but strangely common afterward.
Another thing the Nazis provided were plenty of traumatized female victims, which worked nicely into Stieve’s interest in the ancient idea of pregnancy and “legitimate rape.“ Of course, this notion was couched in more modern terms of “stress effects” on pregnancy, but the word “rape” did come up more than once. Specifically, Stieve wanted to find out if stress affected a woman’s ovulation and menstruation cycles.
(The Plötzensee prison execution shed)
Using his favor with Der Fuhrer, he struck up an arrangement with the administrators of the Plotzensee Prison outside of Berlin, which was a repository for many of Hitler’s political opponents. They would deliver him some of the 3,000 executed political prisoners for dissection, and they’d get the credit for helping out the Nazi cause.
Stieve had a lot of pull at the prison, now effectively run by the SS. He coordinated with the guards to extend execution dates, while daily reminding female prisoners of the impending execution. He had Nazi officers note his subjects’ menstruation and ovulation cycles while they were subject to terrible abuse. Interrogations under torture were known to have taken pace at the prison, and there’s no reason to believe that the SS took any mercies on Stieve’s marked “intentionally stressed” subjects.
One of Stieve’s favorite techniques was to have the women predicted for ovulation walked to the execution shed, have them bow where so many had been beheaded by ax before, and then have the executioner pull back at the last moment. He would then study the women to see if the acute stress of the “mock execution” had affected the ovulation cycle.
(Another view of the Plötzensee prison execution shed)
A former student of Stieve’s later told Toronto medical professor William Seidelman that Stieve had instructed SS officers to rape the female prisoners to study sperm migration to the uterus. That’s somewhat refuted by the fact that none of Stieve’s papers mention study of sperm migration, and that itself is consistent with his study of the function of the organs themselves.
However, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. As anatomist, historian and author Steve Winkelmann put it:
“I can understand how Seidelman would think it’s true. Because whenever you look into Nazi medicine, you find that the very worst things—they have happened.“
So, did Stieve have his female subjects raped to test sperm migration? Probably not. But did he have them raped, or was he complicit in rape as part of the battery of “stresses” he prescribed to study ovulation?
That’s especially likely since the basis of all of his studies were the “rhythm method” and Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” theories of contraception. In a sense, it’s almost inevitable that it happened; any scientist is eventually going to test his base theories, even if he doesn’t record the precise methodology. Remember that at the time, the full depth of the Nazis’ war crimes weren’t known, even to many Germans. While SS troops and other Nazis did routinely rape and pillage, they didn’t go out of their way to make a public spectacle or record of it. So it’s entirely possible (even likely) that such rape “studies” DID happen…they just weren’t recorded as such.
It might fairly be said that this article, this mention of Nazi science, is little more than a case of Reductio ad Hitlerum, and that Godwin’s Law states that the comparison is self-defeating from the title down. It might even be argued that Stieve was just a good scientist using the means at his disposal to test a popular theory — he did, after all, ultimately disprove the “rhythm method.” He did not, however, prove that either chronic or acute stress outright stopped ovulation or eliminated the possibility of pregnancy.
You could also say that “Akin liked Nazi Science” is a counterpoint argument to “Nazis supported Planned Parenthood” and abortion as a means of eugenics; in that sense, Stieve’s experiments only prove that the Nazis literally took the worst parts of every ideology on Earth and twisted them to evil.
But we can draw a few basic conclusions here:
- Todd Akin and “legitimate rape” proponents are using ‘science‘ dating back to the medieval era (when doctors thought female organs were inverted male organs), which was espoused and later disproved by the Nazis.
- This isn’t the first or last instance of conservatives using outdated ideology, or ideologies espoused by Nazis or religious zealots.
- Todd Akin is a believer in Nazi science, and could probably learn something by reading the results
- Todd Akin is definitely a Nazi. (Or something like.)