The Truth About "Redefining" Rape


Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz recently called the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act, which advocates say seeks to redefine rape, “a violent act against women.” The bill probably has no chance, but it still needs to be called out, loudly.

The bill, introduced two weeks ago in the House, seeks to make permanent the Hyde Amendment restricting federal funding of abortion via Medicaid. But abortion rights advocates are worried about two byproducts of the bill: Potentially making it harder for abortion to be covered by private insurance, and narrowing the standing rape and incest exception to “forcible rape,” seemingly restricting statutory rape or rape that did not involve other forms of violence.

Both of these sets of concerns first got aired in pieces by Nick Baumann in Mother Jones (here and here). Here’s the actual language that indicates the “forcible rape” change:

‘The limitations established in sections 301, 302, 303, and 304 shall not apply to an abortion—
‘(1) if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest; or
‘(2) in the case where the pregnant female suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the pregnant female in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.

Note that minors aren’t covered here unless incest was involved. And as Jonathan Capehart at The Washington Post points out “forcible rape” is never defined.

Nothing has caught fire quite like the nasty idea of “redefining rape,” which spun off its own Twitter campaign, #dearjohn. And Wasserman Schultz seized on that disturbing element as well. She told Raw Story yesterday,

“It really is — to suggest that there is some kind of rape that would be okay to force a woman to carry the resulting pregnancy to term, and abandon the principle that has been long held, an exception that has been settled for 30 years, is to me a violent act against women in and of itself,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Interestingly, no one on the right, including anti-abortion activist groups, would talk to Talking Points Memo about that aspect of the bill. The only player who even responded to their reporter, from the Susan B. Anthony List, said that they would get back to him “later this week,” when they’d have “much more informed comments on the topic.” And the Democratic co-sponsor, anti-choice congressman Dan Lipinski, issued the following statement to press:

“The Hyde Amendment allows for taxpayer funding of abortion in very limited cases, including if the pregnancy is the result of rape. The language of H.R. 3 was not intended to change existing law regarding taxpayer funding for abortion in cases of rape, nor is it expected that it would do so. Nonetheless, the legislative process will provide an opportunity to clarify this should such a need exist.”

Far be it for me to underestimate the bad faith and disrespect for women represented by this faction of the federal government, but it really may just have been sloppy language, or if it was intentional, the bill’s crafters knew it would never stand. On the other hand, it’s incoherent to say that abortion is murder, but that you can “murder” if the conception involved rape. And plenty of Republicans would love to do away with those exceptions entirely if they thought they could get away with it. As Sady Doyle puts it in Salon, “It shouldn’t be shocking: The goal is no abortions for rape survivors. Because the goal is no abortions, for anyone.”

For context of what’s immediately at stake here: In 2006, the most recent year we have numbers for, federal Medicaid only covered 85 abortions under the rape or incest exceptions. Low-income women seeking abortions are already ill-served by the federal government, though in some cases, less so by their states. Still, just as “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion” as a name creates the false impression that Uncle Sam is daily writing checks of your money, for baby-slaughter, facts aren’t really the strong suit of the anti-choice right.

The interview Wasserman Schultz underscored what’s really at stake here: She pointed out that the bill could pass the House in whatever form, but not likely the Senate, and would certainly be vetoed by the president. Still, she said, “To have H.R. 3, the Republicans’ third most important priority, say that rape cannot be an exception to federal funding for abortion…sends an incredibly strong message to women,” and called it “yet another example” of how the “extreme right-wing fringe of Republican Party has complete control over their agenda.” All persuasive. And Democrats (and the few Republican moderates left) need to know they can’t take their female voters for granted and cede any ground on this one, by hearing from them.

Update: The legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee tells the anti-choice LifeNews that by his reading, excluding statutory rape is already the standing policy, and he claims that the bill wouldn’t exclude rape of unconscious or drugged women.

Exclusive: Dem Calls GOP Rape-Redefining Bill ‘A Violent Act Against Women’ [Raw Story]
Dem Rep Opens Up On Rape Redefining Bill [TPM]
What Is Forcible Rape, Exactly? [WP]
John Boehner’s Push To Redefine Rape [Salon]

Previous Coverage:
House Republicans’ New Definition Of “Rape-Rape”
Don’t Let The Right Wing Redefine Rape [Don’t Let The Right Wing Redefine Rape
House Republicans Frantically Race To Restrict Abortion
Where Are We Headed With Reproductive Rights?
Meet The Newly Powerful Dudes Who Want To Regulate Your Uterus
Fun Facts About How Poor Women Are Denied Their Reproductive Rights

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