Buggered Mind of Neale Sourna, The

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

What could the redefinition of rape mean for women?

by Jessica Ashley, Shine staff, on Tue Feb 1, 2011

Both reproductive rights and the definition of rape could change with the introduction of a U.S. House bill by New Jersey Republican Chris Smith.

H.R. 3, also dubbed the politically saturated "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," would take the current restrictions on federal abortion funding a step further. Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has excluded abortion from public health-care programs like Medicaid. The exemptions to this amendment are mandated funding in cases of incest, rape, or when the woman's life is endangered. The Hyde Amendment must be renewed annually.

In part, H.R. 3 proposes that the exemption would only cover women who are "forcibly" raped and become pregnant. House Speaker John Boehner has said the bill is a top priority. It presently has the support of 173 representatives, ten of whom are Democrats.

Critics say that this would not only redefine rape, it would disallow government assistance for non-forcible sexual assaults, including many statutory rapes. A lack of consent, the political action organization MoveOn.org, states, is the definition of rape, not "bruises and broken bones."

"I don't know how anybody could suggest that there is any rape that is acceptable. I just think it sends a very clear message direct from the heart of the Republican party to women in America about exactly how Republicans feel about women," said Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz, a Florida Democrat who said H.R. 3 is "nothing short of a violent act against women."

Some supporters of the bill have said that the clamor over the term "forcible rape" has been blown out of proportion while others have not made public statements on H.R.3, according to CBS News.

Congressman Smith said that, although President Obama signed an executive order to uphold federal funding restrictions on abortion, health-care reform offers the opportunity to sidestep the amendment.

"We are setting up a funding scheme to pay for abortions," Smith said. The bill he introduced would make the proposed changes permanent.

The word "forcible" is one small part of this legislation. The bigger issue is reproductive rights of women who have already been victimized and are vulnerable to the many systems at work here. Sure, it can be argued that the word is not worth all of the outcry. However, to the young woman who has been drugged or date raped, the minor girl who has been manipulated by a man of legal age, or the many other individual cases where a female has been sexually assaulted where force cannot be seen or perhaps even proven, this is big, scary, threatening phrasing.

Before this moves forward, perhaps we need to ask whether Roe v. Wade is being chipped away through this bill, and who will pay the price -- not just for abortions that follow rape, but for the blows to women's health care, rights, and the ability to recover from crimes committed against women.

What do you think of the proposed bill and possible redefinition of rape?

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