Conservatives and anti-choice activists have been trying — and lately, succeeding — to whittle down abortion rights in this country for some time. But a recent effort is also underway to whittle down our definition of rape so that fewer and fewer victims are included.
The original language in HR3, an anti-choice Republican bill proposed in Congress, redefined rape for the purposes of determining which victims can have an abortion covered by Medicaid. Conservative lawmakers narrowed the standing broad definition to only “forcible rape,” begging the question as to how many bruises you have to incur in order to qualify as a rape victim. It created such an uproar that Republicans promised to get rid of it from the bill. But as Nick Baumann of Mother Jones reports, they’re not done trying.
As HR3 comes up for a vote today, the committee report for the bill says that it will “not allow the Federal Government to subsidize abortions in cases of statutory rape.” Congressional committees write these documents in order to outline their intent for the legislation in case there is ever a court fight. If such a fight comes up around this bill, the effect will be that victims of statutory rape will be denied Medicaid funds for an abortion.
Telling victims of sexual assault that their experiences don’t “count” is the lowest of the low. It also only serves to create an environment of more acceptance around these crimes. A 30 year old coercing a 13 year old into sex? Sorry, federal law doesn’t count that as rape. And if the government doesn’t think it’s rape, why should a perpetrator? Why would a victim realize that she should report a crime that is now not considered a crime? According to these lawmakers, she should be forced to bear any child that results if she can’t afford an abortion with her own money.
The reasons offered for this restriction echo fear of rampant teenage sexuality. Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, said the original redefinition was in response to a “brazen effort” by abortion rights groups to “federally fund the abortion of tens of thousands of healthy babies of healthy moms, based solely on the age of their mothers.” Richard Doerflinger of the US Council of Catholic Bishops said it was “an effort on the part of the sponsors to prevent the opening of a very broad loophole for federally funded abortions for any teenager.” But teens only account for fewer than two out of 10 of all abortions, and of those most are 18-19; women in their twenties are the largest group, at 58%. There’s a difference between all teenagers and those who are victims of statutory rape. But in the minds of Republicans, no difference exists. All sexually active teenage girls deserve to be punished by bringing to term an unwanted baby, rape or no. The language is an overreaction to the imaginary problem of young girls wantonly sleeping around and then trying to abort their babies under false rape accusations.
Republicans at the same time try to claim they aren’t changing anything. But the bill’s language is absurd, as the Hyde Amendment has stood as law since 1976 and forbids federal funds from paying for abortions — except in the cases of rape and incest. In the words of a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokeswoman, “Hyde does not make a distinction between statutory rape and any other kind of rape and states are not free to make such distinctions.” This is merely an attempt to narrow a law that already shuts too many poor women out of access to abortion care.
Not to mention that a group claiming to be working against the stealth efforts of abortion rights groups is using some pretty stealth efforts of its own. If they’re really not changing anything, why jump through such complicated legislative hoops to pull it off? The answer is in how much they want to control young girls’ sexuality.