If you haven’t seen the report in the above link, I’ll summarize: 173 Congresspeople — mostly, but not all, Republicans — are co-sponsoring a bill that would change the “except in the case of rape/incest” provision that allows for taxpayer-funded abortion in certain circumstances. Right now, a woman who is planning to have an abortion can’t pay for it with Medicaid unless it was the result of rape or incest. The bill would limit that to “forcible rape”, a standard with no legal definition. Since there’s no legal definition, it’s not inappropriate to think that it might be the standard described by South Dakota State Senator William Napoli, who speculated on the subject a few years ago:
A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.
That would mean that a woman who was drugged would not qualify. Or a 14 year old plied with drinks and pressured by a man three times her age. Would it require proof of resistance? How “forcible” can a rape be if the man was merely much, much bigger than the woman and the door was locked and she didn’t want to find out if he would beat the hell out of her first, so she took the circumstances to mean that resistance would only make things worse? Would that sort of rape count?
“But wait,” you say, “I oppose all abortions, in the cases you describe and every other, and don’t think taxpayers should ever pay for them for anyone. The only problem with this bill is that it doesn’t go far enough!”
It’s not about abortion. It’s about rape. People who oppose legal abortion can agree with the idea of reducing federal funding for abortions in the case of rape and incest, but doing it this way is incredibly dangerous. Creating two different kinds of rape survivors is very dangerous. Requiring women who were raped to have to prove to a health care provider that their rape was forcible, by some legal standard that has yet to be determined, is very dangerous. It creates a de facto class of rape in which women who were drugged, or severely underaged, or who saw the threat of force and chose to drop their resistance, are treated by the law as having colluded in their rape.
I worked for a criminal defense law firm for years. If there’s more than one standard under the law for the kinds of rape, even if it’s not in criminal cases, any defense attorney who’s not negligent in his duties will bring that up, and the argument will carry more weight than it does now. If there’s a legal standard that says that one kind of rape is rape-rape, and another kind of rape happens to women who don’t deserve all of the rights we afford to victims of rape-rape, then the men who commit the second kind of rape — the men who use drugs or implied threats or just pick women who are too young to consent — they’ll receive the message that what they’re doing isn’t really rape. And even if you say that we have laws to punish them if they act on it, their attorneys will have stronger arguments.
And these things, they’re the unintended consequences of a law like this. We can have a debate about whether tax dollars should ever go to fund an abortion. I have my opinion, and you may have yours, but that’s a different argument. Even if you applaud legislative action to restrict abortions, I would hope that you can agree that taking that action at the expense of rape victims isn’t the way to do it. Is the possibility that a few more women will have to find another way to pay for their abortions worth sending the message that women who were raped in a certain way that their experience doesn’t count? Is it worth creating a standard for men that says “if you don’t hit her, it’s partly her fault, too?” Is it worth putting that in law?
Leave the abortion debate to abortion. Women who’ve been raped have enough to deal with.