Lawmakers Decide Not to Redefine Rape

Posted on February 3, 2011 by


Yesterday, the authors of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act decided to remove the phrase “forcible rape” from the language of the bill. Originally, the bill was written to limit the use of federal funds for abortions to instances of “forcible rape” and instances of incest involving a female minor. But after the media recoiled from the bill,  its supporters went back to their huddle and came back with language that allows federally-funded abortions for all instances of rape or incest.

And it’s a good thing they did—for them. Because the original draft of the bill would have achieved nothing but the further alienation of women from the political right.

The authors of the original bill took the unprecedented step of institutionalizing a hierarchy of rape victims based on perceived level of suffering. Under the original language, a woman who was raped by knifepoint and impregnated would be able to use a federally-subsidized insurance plan to pay for her abortion, but a 20-year-old who was impregnated by a relative after years of abuse wouldn’t be eligible. Neither would a 13-year-old girl impregnated by a 40-year-old.

Moreover, the scope of the original bill was complicated by the fact that the term “forcible rape” doesn’t actually carry a specific legal meaning. Is coercion force? What if the victim is unconscious or drugged—is that force? Not even the authors of the bill seemed to know.

Here’s the thing: the Hyde Amendment already bans the use of federal funds for abortions—and it has done since 1976. The amendment is renewed each year, and starting in 1977, language was included to create an exemption for cases of rape and incest.  The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act (like the Stupak-Pitts Amendment) is chiefly motivated by a desire to relieve pro-life concerns about federal health care legislation by making the Hyde Amendment permanent—because the federal health care law changed the scope of the Hyde Amendment, and pro-lifers anticipate pro-choice resistance.

Right now, the ban on the use of federal funds for abortion affects any woman who has a federally-subsidized insurance plan—including Postal Service workers and members of the military. But as we increase the role of the federal government in national health care coverage, we  increase the number of women who are affected by the ban. 

And that makes sense.

I’m a pro-choice feminist. I’m also a libertarian. I believe very strongly in women’s right to choose, but I don’t believe women have a right to choose how they spend other people’s money. You want the federal government paying for your health insurance? You’re going to give up the ability to control what your health insurance includes.

And—yes—you’re even opening the door for absurd bills like the original draft of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act, which essentially presumed to know who was and wasn’t deserving of a certain medical procedure.

Remember when right-wing pundits were telling people that under Obamacare there would be federal death panels deciding whether or not to euthanize our grandparents? Liberals laughed at those conservatives for being ridiculous, and they were being ridiculous.

And yet here we are, watching a political party introduce legislation that organizes people by level of suffering and presumes to know what’s medically best for them.

It’s all downhill from here.

Posted in: Health Care