If House Republicans have their way, rape will only be rape if it involves physical force. Why are they trying to do this? One word: Abortion.
For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, with another exemption covering pregnancies that could endanger the life of the mother.
But the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to drastically limit the definition of rape and incest in these cases. The bill, with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors, has been dubbed a top priority in the new Congress by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
With this legislation, which was introduced last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to “forcible rape.” This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible.
For example, if a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion. Rep. Smith’s spokesman did not respond to a call and an email requesting comment.
Given that the bill would also forbid the use of tax benefits to pay for abortions, that 13-year-old’s parents would also not be allowed to use money from a tax-exempt health savings account (HSA) to pay for the procedure. They also wouldn’t be able to deduct the cost of the abortion or the cost of any insurance that paid for it as a medical expense.
There are many other situations in which rape occurs that would disqualify women from receiving publicly funded abortions. For instance, if a woman is raped while unconscious, from too much alcohol or from a drug slipped into her drink, that would not be forcible rape under this proposed law. If a woman submits to being raped without fighting back and there are no signs of physical force, because the man claims to have a knife (whether he actually has one or not) and threatens to cut her throat if she doesn’t comply, that would not be forcible rape under this proposed law.
There is a word (more than one, actually) that characterizes legislation that seeks to deny women federal assistance for an abortion in cases of rape or incest by changing the definition of the word “rape” so that rape becomes not-rape. “Unconscionable” is not the one I actually would prefer to use, but it will have to do.