Friday, January 28, 2011

There's Rape and Then There's Rape

If you know what I mean. And House Republicans sure do:
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.)

Of course, there is a well-known tension between the idea of abortion being about murder (as opposed to the regulation and punishment of non-reproductive female sexuality), and an exception for pregnancies caused by rape. If the idea is that the unborn child is innocent, then the idea of a rape exception makes no sense. If the idea is that rape renders the mother innocent, then it does -- but that just goes back to the notion of abortion regulation being about judging women for having sex.

But in any event: to the extent we are saying that the massive trauma of being raped cannot be ethically reconciled with forcing the victim to give birth to her rapist's child, this law is incredibly insensitive to the wellbeing of rape victims whose rapists didn't use (physical) force -- as in the case of many statutory and date rape cases. Basically, it's back to the old days of that not really being rape.

Via LGM.


Anonymous said...

This is a "well-known tension" only among the thoughtless.

Abortion laws, passed democratically, are not like court rulings, which in order to have legitimacy must at least pretend to adhere to some kind of logical structure. Rather, they represent a consensus of opinion that may satisfy all supporters enough to pass, but none fully.

Thus, a fully-consistent pro-lifer may in fact support banning abortion even in the case of rape. He may also know that others--who, while they don't like abortion on demand, don't consider it murder, and also do not think it fair to make the mother carry the child to term, irrespective of their views of "women having sex"--disagree with him in such numbers that a bill without a rape exception won't pass. Thus, that person accepts the rape exception, because a world with abortions only following exception is better than one of abortion on demand.

Statutory law does not have to--indeed rarely does--make sense when viewed from first principles.

PG said...

We don't live in a direct democracy, and the republican form means only a few hundred people's thinking is involved. At the point of introducing a bill, which requires only one person, it's particularly reasonable to ask about the underlying reasoning: what does this legislator consider ideal? Does he want to bar funding for all abortions but figure this bill is as far as he can go? Does he believe forcible-rape fetuses to be less human than statutory-rape fetuses? These are questions worth asking if you haven't despaired of finding logic in a politician's mind.

joe said...

I suspect the lack of direct democracy just makes the horse-trading, interests-jostling nature of all this process even more pronounced.