House Republicans wasted no time in declaring their legislative priorities for the 112th Congress. The first: repeal health care for millions of Americans. The second: redefine rape. A day after repealing health care, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act, a bill that would not only permanently prohibit some federally funded health-care programs from covering abortions, but would change the language exempting rape and incest from rape to “forcible rape.”
By narrowing the Hyde Amendment language, Republicans would exclude the following situations from coverage: women who say no but do not physically fight off the perpetrator, women who are drugged or verbally threatened and raped, and minors impregnated by adults. As the National Women’s Law Center’s Steph Sterling puts it, this new standard of force “takes us back to a time where just saying no was not enough.”
And yet, 172 Republicans — including sixteen women — and lone Democrat Rep. Daniel Lipinski (IL), chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus — readily support the new standard. Appalled at such a cavalier attack on women’s rights, one House member is not taking the change lightly. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) “fiercely denounced” her conservative colleagues for this “absolutely outrageous” dilution of victims’ rights. Enraged at the suggestion that “there is some kind of rape that would be okay,” Wasserman Schultz told The Raw Story that she considers the bill itself to be “a violent act against women”:
“It is absolutely outrageous,” Wasserman Schultz said in an exclusive interview late Monday afternoon. “I consider the proposal of this bill a violent act against women.”[…]
“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.
“Rape is when a woman is forced to have sex against her will, and that is whether she is conscious, unconscious, mentally stable, not mentally stable,” the four-term congresswoman added.[…]
Wasserman Schultz dismissed the effort as a nonstarter in the Democratic-led Senate and a guaranteed veto by President Barack Obama, but conceded that it may pass the GOP-controlled House. She called it “yet another example” of how the “extreme right-wing fringe of Republican Party has complete control over their agenda.”
Because the bill makes the Hyde Amendment (which currently requires renewal every year) permanent, supporters are ignoring the rape language change and say it “largely codifies what has already been in practice” since 1976. As TPM notes, the pro-life community, “which is usually more than willing to sound off on abortion and what needs to be done to stop it,” has been “radio silent.” Smith, the bill sponsor, who lauds the bill’s “comprehensive approach” in restricting victim’s rights, refused to address the issue of forcible rape.
While this is not the first time anti-abortion lawmakers have attempted to pass the forcible rape language, there is probably a good reason the pro-life network has stayed mum. An overwhelming number of Americans believe abortion should be a choice when a woman is the victim of rape or incest. In a poll taken 30 years after the Roe v. Wade decision, 81 percent of Americans believed abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest. The visceral and comprehensive violence such attacks inflict on victims should be as well understood among lawmakers as it is among the public. But the GOP insists that, despite what common sense, compassion, and gender equity demand, just saying no is no longer enough.
The Washington Post issued a correction to point out that Lipinski is not the sole Democrat supporting the bill. As of today, Democratic Reps. Dan Boren (OK), Jerry Costello (IL), Mark Critz (PA), Joe Donnelly (IN), Mike McIntyre (NC), Collin Peterson (MN), Nick Rahall (WV), Mike Ross (AR), and Heath Shuler (NC) are also sponsors.