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Thursday, February 03, 2011

The South Dakota abortion ban- coming soon to a rape survivor near YOU!

Some of you may remember the South Dakota abortion ban of a few years ago. You remember it, don't you? The one that didn't actually include exceptions for cases of rape or incest? Well, I suppose that's not completely true- one of the authors of the ban did claim that there was an exception of sorts in the bill, but it was just a tad restrictive:

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.


So, the exception to that ban effectively required that the victim be a religious virgin who was saving herself until marriage, who subsequently was brutally sodomized and raped "as bad as you can make it". I don't think I need to go on at length about the misogyny inherent in that, but my back-of-the-napkin calculations* suggest that the number of women who would potentially qualify is pretty tiny. I think a lot of us viewed that law as an unspeakable savagery and felt guiltily relieved not to live in South Dakota.**

Well, bad news folks- Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey has decided that something similar would be just great for the nation as a whole. Seriously:

A House Republican majority bill seeking to change abortion laws is controversially redefining rape. Federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions using Medicaid have always included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, and pregnancies that could endanger the life of the woman. But the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," a bill with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors that John Boehner has now dubbed a top priority, reportedly contains provisions to the term "rape" in order make it more difficult for women to use state money for abortions. Introduced by Chris Smith, this legislation proposes that the rape exemptions be limited to "forcible rape," which has no clear meaning outside of this bill. According to a report in Mother Jones, this provision would rule out federal assistance for abortions stemming from "non-forcible" statutory rape. The bill also proposes that federally funded abortions for incest victims be permitted only if the incestuous woman is under 18. [emphasis added]


Now, first off, that bit about the term "forcible rape" not having meaning outside of the bill isn't completely true- the term is actually used in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program and is defined as follows:

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.


For the sake of argument, let's assume that Smith intends to use the same definition of "forcible rape" as the FBI. I have a weird suspicion that what he actually imagines is closer to the quote about the South Dakota ban but, hell, let's be charitable. Assuming that's the case, if a man beats or otherwise physically harms a woman before raping her, or if he threatens to beat or otherwise physically harm her if she doesn't submit to rape, then she might gain federal support for an abortion. I suppose she'd have to prove this somehow, which I suspect will be a real difficult thing to do given typical responses to rape victims, but at least hypothetically she'll have the option. Federal support will, however, be withheld if:

-She's coerced into sex without the threat of violence.
-She's drugged and raped while unable to consent.
-A family member coerces her into sex and she's over eighteen.
-She's convinced as a minor to have sex willingly with someone over the age of majority.

And, frankly, I expect that even if she was threatened with violence it's going to be impossible to make use of this exception if the alleged rapist was someone she was seeing romantically, and thus date rape is going to get a free pass as long as it doesn't leave bruises or marks that unambiguously signal the application of violence.

What we're seeing is, once more, a frankly sexist and ignorant attempt to tell women who are violated against their will that they have no choice but to be further violated for another nine months. I find it barbaric and hope you do too. And if you do, there's a moveon.org petition just for you.

Let's fight this now before banning funding turns into banning abortion entirely.


* Specifically, see the first footnote.

** Unless, of course, we actually did live in South Dakota, in which case we probably started gazing longingly in the direction of Canada.

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