So, do rape victims rarely become pregnant? Seems like an interesting question, and one that caused a huge brouhaha when Todd Akin, Missouri candidate for the U.S. Senate, said on August 19 that "First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare."
As a matter of fact Akin's comments were more nuanced and thoughtful than the news coverage suggests, and can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Todd_Akin_rape_and_pregnancy_controversy for those interested in reality instead of media blather. The same page cites real, legitimate research showing that 5% of rape victims become pregnant and that rape is twice as likely to result in pregnancy as consensual sex. Note, however, that this research does not directly contradict Akin's statement, since Akin was specifically referring to a subset of rapes he terms "legitimate", which apparently means forcible knife-to-the-throat cases, and the research does not distinguish such circumstances.
But that's not the point of this post anyway. Point of this post is that Akin's view, dubious and demented as it may seem, was once the law of England. Many years ago when I was wasting time at the University of Michigan I came upon a 13th century summary of English law known as Britton. In which, Chapter VI, you can find this curious statement:
"With regard to an appeal of rape, our pleasure is, that every woman, whether virgin or not, shall have a right to sue vengeance for the felony by appeal in the county court within forty days, but after that time she shall lose her suit; in which case, if the defendant confesses the fact, but says that the woman at the same time conceived by him, and can prove it, then our will is that it be adjudged no felony, because no woman can conceive if she does not consent."
So there you have it. If you want to read the original, you can do so online as Google has scanned almost all of the UM libraries.
(Notes: (1) You want the translation of Britton, as the original is in the archaic French, aka Law French, used in English courts at that time, and even if you are a native French speaker it will be Greek to you. (2) The "appeal" of which Britton speaks has nothing to do with applying for relief from a lower to higher court, as in current U.S. usage. "Appeal of felony was a formal charge or accusation in older times in England. It was an accusation by a private subject against another, for some heinous crime, demanding punishment on account of the particular injury suffered rather than for the offense against the public. The proceeding was abolished by act of Parliament in England in 1819." (3) I called Britton to the attention of the NYT anent this case so don't be surprised if you see some garbled discussion of it on a NYT blog.)