Two Congresswomen who had cosponsored H.R. 36, the bill that would impose a nationwide ban on later abortions, pulled their support yesterday because of the narrow exception for rape and incest survivors. This exemption would have required survivors of rape or incest to report their attack in order to obtain an abortion. Media accounts noted that the two cosponsors pushed for eliminating the reporting requirement. This latest controversy highlights the fundamental problem with this bill—the cold rejection of the reality of women’s lives.
H.R. 36 exempts a rape or incest survivor only if the survivor reports the sexual assault to an “appropriate law enforcement agency” (or, in the case of incest, to a “government agency legally authorized to act on reports of child abuse or neglect”).
You may be wondering why this is an issue. For one thing, most sexual assaults aren’t reported–official statistics set reporting rates at just 35% [PDF]. Among college students, the reporting rate is just 20% [PDF].
There are many reasons a woman may decide not to report her rape. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network notes that: “Many victims say that reporting is the last thing they want to do right after being attacked. That’s perfectly understandable — reporting can seem invasive, time consuming and difficult.” Often survivors are not believed, their confidentiality not protected, and their reports not adequately adjudicated.
This means that for most rape survivors, the exception is meaningless.
Now you may be wondering why the sponsors included the reporting requirement? One guess is that the sponsors want to encourage reporting. Another guess is that the sponsors don’t really want to exempt anyone from this draconian ban. Considering the sponsors in the last Congress originally didn’t include any exemption for rape and incest at all, I am leaning towards the second guess.
In either scenario, however, a survivor’s reality is totally ignored.
H.R. 36 doesn’t acknowledge the difficult issues relating to reporting. It doesn’t respect a woman’s experience, a woman’s decision, and a woman’s recovery.
H.R. 36 is full of provisions that would hurt women. And the rape/incest exception perfectly embodies just how much the sponsors could care less about those women.