Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), a chair of the House pro-life caucus, isn’t answering questions today about the controversial abortion law — or its potential deleterious effects on rape or incest victims — that he’s cosponsored along with many big names in the Republican majority.
H.R. 3, known as the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” is essentially a rewrite of existing anti-abortion language in the federal code. It would make permanent some well-known provisions like the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding of abortion in all cases (as it’s written now, the Hyde Amendment expires at the end of every fiscal year and has to be reauthorized as part of the Health and Human Services funding bill) and eliminate employer and individual tax deductions for private insurance plans that cover abortion.
But the bill does more than just make permanent the prohibition on the government paying for abortions or make it harder for people to use insurance to pay for abortions. As Mother Jones’ Nick Baumann reported today, it also redefines what the government considers rape.
Currently, women insured under Medicare or Medicaid or through the government can obtain abortions in cases of rape, incest or risk to the life or health of the mother.
Under the new law, the only rapes that would qualify a woman for abortion coverage would be “forcible rape.” Statutory rape, incest and other kinds of reputedly non-violent sexual assaults (for example, an assault in which a rapist used drugs to incapacitate the victim might not count as “forcible”) wouldn’t be classified as rape for the purpose of obtaining abortion coverage.
As Baumann reports, the definition of “forcible rape” is (at best) murky, potentially making the redefinition far-reaching when it comes to women seeing abortions after sexual assault:
The term “forcible rape” is not defined in the federal criminal code, and the bill’s authors don’t offer their own definition. In some states, there is no legal definition of “forcible rape,” making it unclear whether any abortions would be covered by the rape exemption in those jurisdictions.
Changing the way rape is classified when it comes to abortion (as well as strictly defining what “health of the mother” means) have long been goals of the anti-abortion movement. Many pro-lifers, of course, want to see all abortion banned in the case of every pregnancy, even those that result from rape or incest. In the case of the health clause, some pro-lifers — most famously, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in a 2008 presidential debate — have complained that depression or other mental disorders could be used as a reason to allow an abortion, even if the pregnant woman’s physical health would not be affected by a termination.
Lipinski is one of just a handful of Democratic co-sponsors of H.R. 3, which Republicans have already touted as one of the central political goals of their new House control. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) is the lead sponsor on the bill, though many in the House leadership have also signed on.
Smith’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the foricible rape portion of the law. Lipinski’s office said it was their policy at this time not to comment on the bill at all despite being a co-sponsor. The bill is currently in the House and expected to get a floor vote soon.