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House Bill Aimed at Restricting Abortion Access Narrows Exceptions for Abortion Coverage in Cases of Rape

House Bill Aimed at Restricting Abortion Access Narrows Exceptions for Abortion Coverage in Cases of Rape

February 1, 2011 — A Republican-backed House bill (HR 3) that includes a provision codifying the Hyde Amendment narrows the exception for rape allowed under current federal restrictions on abortion coverage, only permitting coverage for abortion in cases in which rape is considered "forcible," according to some women's groups, the Washington Post reports. The Hyde Amendment, approved in appropriations legislation annually since 1976, prohibits federal funding for abortion care except in cases of rape, incest or when a woman's life is threatened by continuing the pregnancy. The proposed bill, titled the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, would narrow the rape exception for abortion coverage to cases of "forcible rape," the Post reports. Critics say the term "forcible" makes a distinction between sexual assault with an element of violence and other types of rape, such as attacks that occur in cases of statutory rape or because of drugs or verbal threats. The wording could open cases of rape to court interpretation, critics say. Steph Sterling, director of government relations for the National Women's Law Center, said, "The concern here is that it takes us back to a time where just saying no was not enough," adding that the bill "speaks to a distinction between rape where there must be some element of force in order to rise to the standard, and rape where there is not."

Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), one of the few Democratic sponsors of the bill and co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said the bill "was not intended to change existing law regarding taxpayer funding for abortion in cases of rape, nor is it expected that it would do so. Nonetheless, the legislative process will provide an opportunity to clarify this should such a need exist."

The bill has 173 co-sponsors in the House, but is not likely to garner as much support in the Senate or from President Obama (Somashekhar, Washington Post, 1/31).

San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Calls Bill 'Outrageous'

The bill is "an outrageous attack on women's rights that should be voted down in both the House and the Senate," an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle says. Although "'[f]orcible rape' doesn't have a legal definition," the bill's goal is to "exclude pregnancies that result from date rape, statutory rape or rapes that happen when women are physically incapacitated," the editorial continues, concluding, "We have no idea why this bill's sponsors feel the need to additionally insult women by suggesting that only 'forcible' rape is real rape, but there's nothing about this bill that deserves passage" (San Francisco Chronicle, 2/1).