The House Tries to Redefine Rape: Act Now to Protest

By Katie Feifer

H.R. 3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion" Act currently before the House with 173 co-sponsors, is a horror for women and children and for all those who care about them. We urge you to learn more about this bill, and to share your concern and outrage with friends, family and your elected officials.  We strongly believe this bill must not become law. You can read more in columns in Mother Jones and Salon. But here is a brief outline of what the bill seeks to do, and why we believe it is so harmful.

 Under current law, federal funding for abortion is unavailable except for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. The proposed law denies federal funding unless the pregnancy results from "forcible rape" or in the case of a minor, incest. The horrors of this bill are both practical and symbolic.

First the practical. The only federal standard for "forcible rape" exists in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. That definition is considered by many, including many states’ law enforcement, as very narrow. It does not reflect what most state laws include in their definitions of rape. Since the 1970s, states have (rightly) defined rape around the issue of consent, rather than whether force was used in the crime. States have different definitions of “forcible rape”, and some have no definition. How is one to define "forcible rape?" Let alone who is to define "forcible rape."  Passage of this bill would mean that "every rape survivor who finds herself in need of abortion funding will have to submit her rape for government approval." (Sady Doyle, Salon)

Children who are raped by someone not their father or grandfather would have no support under the proposed legislation unless the rape was "forcible." So the 13 year old girl raped and impregnated by her father's friend who attacked her while she was sleeping? No funding to help her terminate her pregnancy.

Studies have shown that most rapes do not utilize what the FBI's Uniform Crime Report defines as "force."  Rapists coerce, threaten, prime with alcohol and drug their victims. They rape women and girls who are sleeping. They take advantage of women and girls who are mentally, physically or developmentally disabled. Roughly three quarters of rapes would not qualify as "forcible," based on research.

And which women and girls would be most harmed in practical terms? Those who are most vulnerable already. The poor, many of whom rely on Medicaid for health care. Native women, whose health care is often covered by a federal agency - Indian Health Service. The wealthy among us would have more options, like privately funded abortions.

And what of the harm itself? Quoting from a statement issued by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, "Every area of a victim’s life is affected by sexual violence whether it is a child sexually abused by a family member, a teenager coerced into sex by an older man, a college student drugged and assaulted at a party, or an adult raped by a stranger or by her ex-husband. Advocates at 1300 rape crisis centers across the United States bear witness to the trauma of sexual violence every day and see the torment caused by the loss of power and control over one’s body—one’s most intimate self—that is at the heart of sexual violence.

We know that at least 1-5% of sexual assaults results in pregnancy. In 2008, the Supreme Court of California upheld that pregnancy resulting from rape constitutes great bodily injury. Most of us can’t imagine what it would be like to face that pain."

Symbolically – but with very real ramifications,  the proposed legislation is a heartbreaking move to un-do women's hard-won rights not to have to demonstrate "utmost resistance" in order to be considered a "real" rape victim. Either inadvertently with careless use of language, or very deliberately, the bill's sponsors are attempting to re-define "real rape" back to standards that existed in the 1600's, which we presumed we'd ridded ourselves of 40 years ago.  Although the language appears in a bill about abortion funding, its impact will be widespread. What the law now defines as "rape" - and what we know as survivors, advocates and caring people -  would, with casual ease, mostly be erased.

We cannot allow this to happen. What can you do? Educate yourself, call your legislators, share blogs and articles, and sign a petition. One of several we like was drafted by MoveOn.org. Please act now.