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PolitiFact VA: Vega incorrectly downplayed the chance sexual violence can result in pregnancy

Yesli Vega speaks in front of several military and other flags
Republican congressional candidate Yesli Vega speaks at an event at a Fredericksburg restaurant. At an event this spring, Vega falsely suggested that women are unlikely to get pregnant from getting raped. (File photo: Ben Paviour/VPM News)

The following article discusses sexual violence.

Speaker: Yesli Vega
Statement: They were “never my comments” that a woman can’t get pregnant from rape.
Date: Oct. 20
Setting: TV interview

Republican Yesli Vega recently was asked to elaborate on a statement she made about rapes resulting in pregnancies during her campaign for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District seat.

A television reporter from WVAW in Charlottesville asked Vega on Oct. 20 if “she believes [a] woman can’t get pregnant from being raped,” a charge that her Democratic opponent, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, is making a focus this fall.

“That is absolutely ridiculous,” Vega said. “Those were never my comments. I think that it is despicable that [Spanberger] would use something as traumatic as that to score cheap political points.”

Gianni Snidle, the Virginia Democratic Party spokesperson, called Vega’s denial a “lie.”

We ran a fact check and found that Vega has not said a woman can’t get pregnant from rape. But she did suggest that women, for special reasons, are unlikely to get pregnant from being raped — a claim that medical experts have long rejected.

The controversy stems from comments Vega made this spring when, as first reported by Axios Richmond, she was taped talking to an unidentified woman at a campaign event in Stafford County. Vega — who opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when a mother’s life is endangered — was asked what Congress should do if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its Roe v. Wade decision (which it later did).

Vega expressed support for new state-level restrictions. She added, "The left will say, 'Well, what about in cases of rape or incest?' I'm a law-enforcement officer. I became a police officer in 2011. I've worked one case where, as a result of a rape, the young woman became pregnant."

Vega was then asked, “I’ve actually heard that it's harder for a woman to get pregnant if she's been raped. Have you heard that?"

Vega replied, "Well, maybe because there's so much going on in the body. I don't know. I haven't, you know, seen any studies. But if I'm processing what you're saying, it wouldn't surprise me. Because it's not something that's happening organically. You're forcing it. The individual, the male, is doing it as quickly — it's not like, you know — and so I can see why there is truth to that. It's unfortunate."

The claim that rape is unlikely to lead to pregnancy has “no biological plausibility” and is “not grounded in any physiology or scientifically valid data,” according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“Repeating previously debunked lies shows ignorance about medical facts,” Jen Villavicencio, an OB-GYN who works for the medical organization, wrote in an email. “Worse, suggesting that survivors of sexual assault can’t get pregnant is hurtful and makes light of the very real trauma they endure.”

Perhaps the most widely cited study about rape and pregnancy was published in 1996 by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. It found that, nationally, about 5% of rapes in which the victim was aged 12 to 45 resulted in pregnancy. The study estimated that 32,101 pregnancies result each year from rapes, often stemming from family and domestic violence.

We asked Vega’s campaign to elaborate on her statements about the connection between rape and pregnancy. We received a statement that, without explanation, accused Spanberger, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [D-NY] of “lying.”

Spanberger has often said that Vega has “doubted” whether a women can get pregnant from rape and sometimes she’s gone a step further. For example, a TV ad aired by her campaign in August said, “Yesli Vega was caught on tape saying women couldn’t get pregnant from rape.”

Our ruling

Vega said “those were never my comments,” when a TV reporter recently asked her if she believes a woman can’t get pregnant from rape.

She was referring to taped comments she made in the spring when an unknown woman questioned Vega about her abortion views. Vega didn’t say a woman can’t get pregnant from rape. To the contrary, she said during her 11-year career in law enforcement, she knew of one instance where that occurred.

But there’s more to this story. Vega also suggested to the unknown person that women might be less likely to get pregnant from rape “because it's not something that's happening organically. You're forcing it.” Such claims have been disproven by research and denounced by medical experts.

Vega parsed a reporter’s question and gave a misleading answer. We rate her denial Half True.

Sources

Yesli Vega, WVAW interview, Oct. 20, 2022
Democratic Party of Virginia, “Yesli Vega denies existence of audio tape where she doubts likelihood of pregnancy from rape,” Oct. 24, 2022
Axios, “Scoop: Spanberger rival Yesli Vega doubts pregnancy after rape,” June 27, 2022
Ned Oliver, tweet on Vega tapes, June 27, 2022
Reuters, “Rape trauma as barrier to pregnancy has no scientific basis,” Aug. 20, 2012
American Journal of  Obstetrics and Gynecology, “Rape-related pregnancy: Estimates and descriptive characteristics from a national sample of women,” August 1996
Email from Kate Connors, senior media relations specialist for the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Nov. 3, 2022
Text from Yesli Vega’s campaign, Oct. 26, 2022
Abigail Spanberger for Congress, TV ad, Aug. 26, 2022
Spanberger, WAMU interview, Oct. 14, 2022
Spanerger, CBS19 interview, Oct. 21, 2022