Redefining rape

No, readers, this isn’t some radical idea of mine. It’s a radical idea of John Boehners. Or the GOP’s. Or maybe it’s actually not an idea at all. No one seems to have the facts straight on this one.

The debate du jour surrounds the proposed the boldly – albeit inaccurately – named “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act” that Boehner has said would be a top priority this session. Specifically section 309, which states:

The limitations established in sections 301, 302, 303, and 304 shall not apply to an abortion– (1) if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest; or (2) in the case where the pregnant female suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the pregnant female in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.

I’ve emphasized the most talked about part, in case you couldn’t figure out what the hubbub was about. So the argument is, and what columnists and newsmen are whining about nationwide, is that “all rape is forcible!” “This bill takes us back to a time when just saying ‘no’ wasn’t enough to qualify as rape!” Neither, of course, is really true.

Rape is a violent word. A scary word. The origins of the word lie in the Latin word “rapio” – the concept of what you do to a city after you’ve destroyed its army and are looting it for slaves and spoils. To rape someone meant to strip them of their freedom and force them into enslavement – while this definition is rarely used today (at least knowingly), it is not an inappropriate metaphor for the damage a sexual rape causes its victim.

And it is a word that has been applied broadly to a number of crimes that may not really fall under its common understanding. For instance, if two consenting minors have sex, is that rape? Legally, yes. What about if a woman gets drunk, has sex with a man, then the next day claims she wouldn’t have if she was sober? Legally, that’s also rape. When you think of the word rape, are these what come to mind? Or is it the myriad of more violent, disgusting acts that have been more strongly associated with the word?

“Forcible rape,” the controversial term that everyone is crying over, is not a term defined by the legal code, unfortunately. Rather, it is used by the FBI to differentiate between the myriad of crimes that are called “rape” nowadays.  Let’s assume that this is the intended meaning, and use the following definition from the FBI:

Forcible rape, as defined in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, is the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Attempts or assaults to commit rape by force or threat of force are also included; however, statutory rape (without force) and other sex offenses are excluded.

Being as the government already limits is funding of abortion to cases of incest, rape, and when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life. This means that the difference this bill makes is centered around that phrase “forcible rape.” Should the term be defined in the bill? Absolutely.

The biggest change that I see here is that statutory rape is out. If a man has consensual sex with an underage girl, which results in a pregnancy, that would no longer qualify for a government-sponsored abortion. It’s still a crime, however, this bill does nothing to change that. What this does is prevent every irresponsible teenage girl in America from getting a free abortion on demand simply for being under 18. Additionally, in the following clause, abortions for pregnancies out of incest are no longer funded unless the girl is a minor. In other words, this seems to be more about promoting individual responsibility than anything else. Taking away free abortions may be a horrific violation of womens’ rights in the eyes of the feminist movement; frankly, I couldn’t care less. If anything, this bill doesn’t go nearly far enough in its limitations. It should clearly define what “forcible rape” is, however, to avoid legal pandering and loopholes in the future – what if the woman were drugged, for instance, which removes the need for the use of physical force? Is that forced rape? It should be answered.

Notably, I doubt this will make a lot of practical difference. Medicaid funds VERY few abortions around the country as a percentage of the total. The most recent figures I could find, from 2006, showed only 191 Federally funded abortions nationwide that year, 54 of which fell under the restricted guidelines – the rest were court ordered (106) or “rare circumstances” (31). In contrast, States funded 177,213 abortions that year – the vast majority in California or New York.

However, there is a bright spot in this legislation. Section 308 interests me.

Nothing in this chapter or any other Federal law shall be construed to require any State or local government to provide or pay for any abortion or any health benefits coverage that includes coverage of any abortion.

Nothing in this chapter or any other Federal law? This bill will prevent any Federal law from requiring State and local governments from having to pay for abortions, or providing health coverage that includes abortion? Sign me up as a small step in the right direction…

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