Pregnancy After Rape: Myths Versus Facts

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Pregnancy After Rape

There is no doubt that some women become pregnant after being raped. After that fact, other facts become distorted by political motives, religious beliefs, and culture wars. How is rape defined? How common is pregnancy after rape? What choices do women make about the pregnancy? The answers are out there, and they may surprise you.

Myth: Pregnancy from a rape is very rare.

This myth is common among political and religious conservatives. Publications from the U.S. National Right to Life Committee have claimed that the act of rape causes changes in a woman’s mental and hormonal system that miraculously rejects pregnancy. Therefore, they say we do not need rape exception clauses in abortion restriction laws. Politicians who want to restrict access to abortions have continued to use the argument that violent sexual intercourse is unlikely to result in pregnancy. [1]

Here is the fact: For a woman who is fertile and not on some form of birth control, the chances of getting pregnant from rape are no different from any other act of sexual intercourse. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a single act of rape carries a pregnancy risk of about 5 percent, which is about the same as an act of consensual sex. [1] According to the CDC, more than 32,000 rapes in the U.S. result in pregnancy every year. [2]

Myth: Women who are pregnant from a rape have to agonize over how the mental and physical health of their attacker might affect their baby.

One reason why a woman may want an abortion after rape is that the predator may have unknown health risks or mental health problems that may affect the baby. The fact is that less than 5 percent of rapes are done by a stranger. Most rapists are someone the woman has had a relationship with or knows well. [1] The highest rate of rape-related pregnancy is reported by women in abusive relationships. [2]

Myth: Most women who are pregnant from rape chose to have an abortion.

The myth is that because rape is such a traumatic event, most women will reject their pregnancy and chose abortion. It is certainly true that the long-term social and psychological effects of rape are traumatic. They may include relationship problems, isolation from family and community, depression, anxiety, loss of self-esteem, and post-traumatic stress disorder. [2]

Despite the social and psychological trauma, and despite the facts that about 40 percent of women report being urged to have an abortion by health care providers or family member, the fact is that most women choose not to have an abortion. [3] Studies show that between 50 and 80 percent of women choose birth over abortion. [1,3] About 6 percent of women who have the baby give it up for adoption. [3]

Women may choose to have the baby because they believe that abortion is always wrong. They may feel that the baby is innocent and reject the belief that the baby is tainted in some way, especially if they were in a relationship with the father. [1] Fewer than 1 percent of abortions in America are done because of rape or incest. [3]

Myth: Women who are pregnant from rape can count on support from society.

Sadly, this is not always the case. If a woman on Medicaid wants to have an abortion, she may be blocked by her state legislature. In 1977, the Hyde Amendment was passed to forbid federal funds to pay for abortions, but they did put in an exception for rape. This exception has been under assault by conservative states. In 2018, 18 states no longer consider rape as an exception, and more states are trying to pass laws that limit a woman access to abortion after rape. [4]

In the 1970s, the term “rape culture” was first used to explain the tendency in America to trivialize rape and blame the victim. Rape culture may still be alive and well in some parts of America. In 2015, in response to the claim of Donald Trumps ex-wife that he emotionally raped her. Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen said that there was no such thing as a man raping his wife. [1]

All you have to do is turn on the news to know that war against rape culture wars is not over. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court of California upheld that pregnancy from rape constitutes bodily injury, women are still being blamed and stigmatized for being victims of sexual abuse. [1,3]

When the state legislature of Pennsylvania changed their law to say they would only cover abortion for rape if the rape were reported to law-enforcement authorities, the rate of publicly funded abortion dropped from 35 per month to 3. In America, today, close to 70 percent of sexual assaults are never reported. The fact is, women in America can’t rely on legal or social support if they become pregnant from rape. [3]


  1. International Journal of Women’s Health and Wellness, Pregnancy after Rape.
  2. CDC, Sexual Violence Consequences.
  3. Health Research Funding, 18 Shocking Abortion Statistics Rape Victims.
  4. Guttmacher Institute, State Funding of Abortion Under Medicaid.
Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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