Science in the Courtroom: Conception as Perfect Response to a Rape Charge

I have been enjoying reading James Mohr's Doctors and the Law (Johns Hopkins Press, 1993) as I broaden my knowledge of the history of medical jurisprudence.  Along the way, James Mohr has also taught me some things about the 19th century conception defense to a charge of rape in both English and American courts.  

"All of the leading authorities in the field of medical jurisprudence were in agreement on this point by mid-century. Yet the old notion did not die easily, as cases during the Civil War demonstrated, and large portions of the public continued to suspect that there was some realtionship between female orgasm and conception." (Mohr, 73)

What is remarkable is the documented effort of American physicians to insist — in the civic education arena of the courtroom surrounding a rape trial — that conception could follow rape. Pregnancy, in short, was not exclusively to be considered a matter of volition. Mohr's book is genius in how it places this medical jurisprudential development in line with the earlier scientific conclusion that women's ovulation is involuntary.

"The campaign was vast, largely uncoordinated, full of ambiguities, imperfectly understood even by the participants on the front lines, and still dimly perceived a century and a half later." (Mohr, 75) 

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