The House GOP's Plan to Redefine Rape
by Nick Baumann
"This bill takes us back to a time when just saying 'no' wasn't enough to qualify as rape," says Steph Sterling, a lawyer and senior adviser to the National Women's Law Center. Laurie Levenson, a former assistant US attorney and expert on criminal law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, notes that the new bill's authors are "using language that's not particularly clear, and some people are going to lose protection." Other types of rapes that would no longer be covered by the exemption include rapes in which the woman was drugged or given excessive amounts of alcohol, rapes of women with limited mental capacity, and many date rapes. "There are a lot of aspects of rape that are not included," Levenson says.
As for the incest exception, the bill would only allow federally funded abortions if the woman is under 18.
The bill hasn't been carefully constructed, Levenson notes. The term "forcible rape" is not defined in the federal criminal code, and the bill's authors don't offer their own definition. In some states, there is no legal definition of "forcible rape," making it unclear whether any abortions would be covered by the rape exemption in those jurisdictions.
The main abortion-rights groups despise the Smith bill as a whole, but they are particularly outraged by its rape provisions. Tait Sye, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, calls the proposed changes "unacceptable." Donna Crane, the policy director of NARAL Pro-Choice America, says that making the "already narrow exceptions for public funding of abortion care for rape and incest survivors even more restrictive" is "unbelievably cruel and heartless."
"This bill goes far beyond current law," says Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), a co-chair of the congressional pro-choice caucus. The "re-definition" of the rape exception "is only one element" of an "extreme" bill, she adds, citing other provisions in the law that pro-abortion rights groups believe would lead to the end of private health insurance coverage for abortion.
"Somebody needs to look closely at this," Levenson says. "This is a bill that could have a dramatic effect on women, and language is important. It sure sounds like somebody didn't want [the exception to cover] all the different types of rape that are recognized under the law."
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