In February, a firestorm erupted over efforts by anti-choice Members of Congress to narrow the long-standing “rape” exception to the ban on the use of federal funds for abortion. Hailed by Speaker John Boehner as one of the top priorities for the new Congress, H.R. 3 allowed federal funding for abortion only in circumstances where the woman could prove she was the victim of “forcible” rape, taking us back to a time when just saying ‘no’ wasn’t enough.
The public was rightly outraged, and House Republicans were forced to delete the offending language from the bill. The public assumed that the issue had been put to rest.
Not so: operating under the radar and far from public view, these anti-choice Members found another, more devious way to narrow the rape exception and exclude some of the most vulnerable rape victims from receiving the care they need.
The House Judiciary Committee Report, where Members describe a bill’s intent, states that “reverting to the original Hyde Amendment language” – deleting the term “forcible” – “should not change longstanding policy.” According to proponents of H.R. 3, the intent of the bill is to narrow the rape exception to apply only to victims of “forcible” rape, whether or not the word “forcible” is in the bill’s text. The House Judiciary Committee Report restores the proponents’ intended meaning: that only victims of “forcible” rape can be included in the bill’s rape exception.
It gets worse. Not only did these Members try a backdoor route to get their way on “forcible” rape, their claims are patently false. It’s not the “longstanding policy” of the government to exclude victims of statutory rape. In fact, it’s “longstanding policy” to include victims of statutory rape under the Hyde Amendment.
What is true is that anti-choice Members are manipulating legislative history in the Committee Report to exclude some of the most vulnerable rape victims. House Republican leaders have redefined rape through the back door, thinking no one would notice. We did – and we’re calling them on it.
This is not a theoretical or abstract issue. Consider the case of a 49-year-old man who sexually abused a nine-year-old girl in Florida for two years and was ultimately sentenced to life in prison for his crime. Had this young girl become pregnant, Florida’s Medicaid program would have called what happened to her rape and paid for her abortion. But House Republican leaders would have concluded that her abortion would not be covered. They are so intent on barring abortion funding that they have lost sight of real people who would be harmed.