Twitter

Is Congress Really Redefining Rape?

I've been seeing a great deal of chatter on Facebook from friends who are in an uproar over a new bill entered into Congress for vote by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). The bill is H.R. 3, "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" and is being protested via petition by MoveOn.org due to the language in section 309 that uses the phrase "forcible rape". The issue of contention is "what exactly is Forcible Rape?".

Being uncomfortable signing my name to any petition without research, I read the entire piece of legislation at thomas.loc.gov (and an aside here, I recommend you always do the same). In summary, the legislation keeps federal funding, which would include medicare, health care flexible spending accounts and subsided health insurance, from covering abortions, except in two cases which are outlined in section 309.

Being mostly pro-life -- BUT a staunch advocate for the ability of a woman to have an abortion in the case of rape, incest, or the threat to the life of the mother -- these exceptions were important to me.

This is the exact text of the bill:
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 the difference in H.R. 364 a bill entitled: Common Sense Health Care Reform Americans Actually Want:
SEC. 303. TREATMENT OF ABORTIONS RELATED TO RAPE, INCEST, OR PRESERVING THE LIFE OF THE MOTHER.

The limitations established in sections 301 and 302 shall not apply to an abortion --

(1) if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest; or

(2) in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.
Bold emphases mine.

As you likely noticed, in this second bill the words "forcible" and "of a minor" do not appear. I can now see why everyone is up in arms -- this is confusing.

Such minute language changes could have the ability to be interpreted by judges in a very different light. Does the addition of the term 'forcible' have the potential to rule out a woman that was drugged or mentally impaired in some way? Does the bill disqualify a woman who was date-raped and not raped at gun-point? Does incest, with the caveat of a the victim being a minor, rule out all other incestuous pregnancies?

The legal definition of "forcible rape" that I was able to find says:
[R]ape that is accomplished against a persons will by means of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury to the victim.
It was also clear that "statutory rape" while still rape is not traditionally considered "forcible" because many times the victim was not forced, but the courts determine she/he to be without the ability to make this judgment.

Finally I'd like to point out that the Hyde Amendment of 1976 already prohibits federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or jeopardy of the mother. So, this begs the question: what exactly is the goal of this new legislation, if not to put in these two new phrases?

Unfortunately, I have no final answers to these tough questions, but I implore you to discuss the issue at length for healthy debate is what makes our democracy function and to research issues you see in a short blurb on Facebook.

Lastly, I would hope that Congress, if they are to pass this bill, would consider modifying the language to make it less confusing and unequivocal.

[UPDATE::: TPW has updated this story here.]

-------
Photo composite: Getty Images