Chipping Away at Roe...and the Definition of Rape

[Trigger warning for sexual violence, rape apologia, victim auditing.]

The House GOP's Plan to Redefine Rape:
Rape is only really rape if it involves force. So says the new House Republican majority as it now moves to change abortion law.

For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. (Another exemption covers 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 House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has dubbed a top priority in the new Congress, contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to limit drastically the definition of rape and incest in these cases.

With this legislation, which was introduced last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to "forcible rape." This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible. For example: If a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion. (Smith's spokesman did not respond to a call and an email requesting comment.)

Given that the bill also would forbid the use of tax benefits to pay for abortions, that 13-year-old's parents wouldn't be allowed to use money from a tax-exempt health savings account (HSA) to pay for the procedure. They also wouldn't be able to deduct the cost of the abortion or the cost of any insurance that paid for it as a medical expense.

...The bill hasn't been carefully constructed, [Laurie Levenson, a former assistant US attorney and expert on criminal law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles] notes. 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.
Read the whole thing here.

There are so many things wrong with this proposed legislation, I hardly know where to begin: The implicit redefinition of what constitutes rape, the ramifications of that redefinition for all survivors of sexual violence (not just the pregnant ones), the revictimization of survivors, the policing of women's bodies and choices, the auditing and ranking of survivors of rape, the auditing and ranking of various acts of rape itself, the condescending and infantilizing paternalism that Other People know what's best for a pregnant woman and survivor of rape, the virtual impossibility of being able to "prove," presumably in a court of law, that one was raped (forcibly or otherwise) in time to secure an abortion... There are so many rape culture tropes being served here, I could frankly spend the entire day documenting the innumerable manifestations of misogynistic fuckery at work here.

But instead I'm going to focus on but one truly shocking aspect of this proposed legislation which probably won't get a whole lot of attention: The proposed law effectively, if not by design, gives veto control over terminating pregnancies resulting from rape to the rapist.

At least in cases where the victim/pregnant woman is dependent on government assistance for abortion, i.e. poor women. (Which underscores the obvious classism of this legislation, too.)

These are facts: Most rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. There are men who use violence, including sexual violence, to control their partners. There are men who use reproductive coercion to control their partners. There are men who rape their partners with the explicit objective of forcibly impregnating them to control them and create a lifelong connection with them.

This law communicates to those men that as long as they drug their partners before raping them, the government will deny funding for an abortion, should a pregnancy result.

Because, you see, raping an unconscious women isn't "forcible rape."
Other types of rapes that would no longer be covered by the exemption include rapes in which the woman was drugged or given excessive amounts of alcohol, rapes of women with limited mental capacity, and many date rapes.
This legislation exists because of a pernicious straw-narrative about the legions of women who will supposedly create stories about having been raped to get the government to pay for their abortions. There is no evidence that these legions of women exist.

There is, however, evidence of the existence of men who use violence and contraceptive sabotage to try to control intimate partners: "About a third of women reporting partner violence experienced reproductive coercion, as did 15 percent of women who had never reported violence." And this legislation pretends those men don't exist, despite the fact that young women and poor women are disproportionately victimized by both reproductive coercion and rape, and disproportionately in need of federal funding to secure abortions.

It's not likely that there will be huge numbers of men who would be aware of and take advantage of such a loophole in the law (though more than 15% of women experiencing reproductive coercion isn't a small number, either), but how many do there actually have to be for this law to be total garbage?

Even in theory alone, giving potential rapists a road map on how to limit their victims' rights and access to abortion is fucked up in the extreme.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus