House Republicans cave on redefinition of rape

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives today backed down over their new and improved definition of rape.

Under terms of a bill introduced in January–and cosponsored by Colorado Reps. Cory Gardner, Mike Coffman and Doug Lamborn–many rape victims would have been ineligible to receive federal funding for abortions.

Today, though, the bill’s sponsor, Chris Smith, R-NJ, announced he would remove the word “forcible” from the bill, which would have allowed federal funding for abortions only in the case of “forcible rape”.

The rewritten bill will allow the government to help pay for abortions for rape victims.

Presumably lawmakers saw an important difference between physical force and coercion, between physical force and date rape drugs, between physical force and raping a woman who is too drunk or otherwise incapacitated to fight back. If so, they apparently no longer do.

“I have the very strong feeling that individuals who have never experienced rape, where no one in their family or immediate circle of friends has experienced rape, that they have no business legislating anything having to do with rape. It infuriates me, and I take great offense,” said Emilie Ailts, director of NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) Pro Choice Colorado.

“This bill takes us back to the 50s, and blaming the victim. This recategorizes rape based on stereotypes that were debunked years ago,” she said, referring to the original language.

The bill still would make it difficult for insurance providers to cover abortion procedures. No insurance company receiving any federal funds could provide abortion coverage. No business that receives tax breaks for providing health insurance coverage to its employees would be able to provide policies that cover abortion. No individual taxpayer who qualifies for a medical expenses tax deduction would be able to claim any expenses related to an abortion or for premiums for a policy that covers abortion.

Ailts said that if this bill becomes law it would virtually eliminate abortion coverage from any insurance plan.

She said, though, that she doesn’t expect it to become law.

“It is just window dressing anyway. It will go to the senate and die. Legislation like this has nothing to do with thinking. It is a scorecard. All these Republicans are trying to do is fulfill their campaign promises. It is insulting to anyone who thinks. There is a lot to be questioned about their motives. It is a colossal waste of time.

“Legislation is not a game where you keep score and sacrifice important parts of people’s lives just so you can check something off your scorecard,” she said.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, issued this statement on the bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ:

“Smith’s bill goes far beyond any other proposal ever introduced in Congress to take health care coverage away from women, would put the lives of women with life-threatening pregnancies in danger, and would not even provide abortion coverage to many women who are raped and become pregnant,” she wrote of the original bill.

“For these women, the only choice they will have under Congressman Smith’s bill will be to risk their health or risk bankruptcy because Congressman Smith will not allow them insurance coverage for abortion — and that’s morally unacceptable. The Smith bill even goes as far as to take existing protections away from women whose lives are in danger from serious medical conditions.

“Under the Smith bill, individuals who have health insurance coverage that includes abortion will face tax penalties because they will not be able to claim existing tax deductions for the cost of their health care. Similarly, small businesses that offer their employees comprehensive health insurance coverage will also face tax penalties because they will no longer be able to claim existing deductions. Ultimately, this will result in a tax increase that will affect millions of men and women across this country.”

“I can’t even begin to process how much this would have harmed victims…,” said the rape victim whose case became a lightning rod in Colorado’s senate race last fall.

“If this were to pass, it would be a huge step backwards, back to the times that society believed women could only be raped by strangers and that it wasn’t rape unless it was physically violent. We have reached a point today that we know this is not the case and time and time again, study after study we’ve seen that women are raped by those that they know and trust and that more times than not it would not count as “forcible.” This is for a number of reasons, often drugs or alcohol are involved which is one, but you also have to recognize that we humans, and most animals, respond to threats with fight, flight, or freeze. If the person freezes and does not fight back, would this still count as forcible? In cases of statutory rape, and women who are younger than the legal age of consent, is that forcible? Really the important thing isn’t how they define “forcible”, the important issue is that rape, regardless of the circumstances, is still rape and to attempt to give some rape victims more rights than others is ignoring that fact,” she said.

“There is so much more that could be said about this… I’m completely blown away that this would even be considered by anyone, regardless of party lines. It’s times like these that I wish our politicians understood the meaning of empathy and the phrase, “walk a mile in their shoes.” This was obviously a political move, and not one meant to serve the people. Sadly, the ones that it would have hurt are women who are already hurting and it would have created even more barriers in an already broken system.”

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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