By Kay Steiger
In light of the debate about abortion politics, there was a story today in the News & Observer about a state fund that set aside money for poor women to have abortions that hasn’t been used since 1995. On the surface, this seems to be a story of eliminating government waste (although the unused money designated for the program is simply absorbed into the state budget at the end of each year). But upon closer examination, it seems that the fund has some very specific restrictions on how that money can be used. A woman can only qualify for abortion funding if she is terminating a pregnancy as the result of rape and incest. This is an argument that’s always considered an “acceptable” exception to abortion bans.
The reality, however, is that it is extremely difficult to prove that a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. In the case of rape, a woman must be willing to file a charge and have proper evidence of the rape. Very few instances of rape are actually reported and few women come forward soon enough after the incident to collect evidence. As for incest, a woman or girl that might qualify for such funds might be in such a compromising domestic situation that she’s unwilling to admit the pregnancy is the result of incest. Similarly, a clinic worker would be legally obligated to report such a situation to Child Protective Services or a social worker. The prospect of legal action on top of terminating a pregnancy is so terrifying to young women that they may be reluctant to report it.
This is one example where the incrementalism on the part of the anti-choice right has been tremendously effective. What was once a pro-choice program that could provide real relief to young women who decide to have an abortion has become one of the many “waste, fraud and abuse” programs that will be cut to balance the state’s budget.