The Rapist Protection Act of 2011 [Updated]

That’s what Dennis G. of Balloon Juice is calling the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” recently introduced in the House. The bill would alter the rape exception for federal assistance for abortions by limiting that assistance to abortions that follow “forcible rape.” A woman drugged and then raped, for example, would no longer be able to get federal assistance to cover the costs of an abortion. Nick Baumann of Mother Jones reports that critics of the bill also worry that it could mean the end of private health insurance coverage for abortions.

The bill aims to make permanent prohibitions against taxpayer funding of abortion. Furthermore, by narrowing the meaning of rape that the federal government will use to determine eligibility to receive financial assistance for abortions, the bill will probably reduce the number of abortions that are paid for with taxpayer dollars. Does this make the sponsors, in the words of John Cole, pro-rape?

No, it doesn’t. Reducing the meaning of the word “rape” here isn’t an attempt to protect rapists or minimize its criminality. Accusations to the contrary are stinky whiffs of hot air. So far as I know, the language of this bill has no applicability toward the general legal definition of rape. The bill is an attempt to solidify within the law limits on federal money that goes to abortions and, apparently, to extend those limits. Even with the Hyde Amendment in place, a fair number of American taxpayers are forced by the law to materially cooperate in a procedure they find morally repugnant. They have no choice in the matter. The current setup doesn’t allow them to simply not have an abortion if they don’t want one; they have to help pay for abortions for others within a limited set of circumstances.

Now I don’t wish to minimize the terrors of being raped and being impregnated by one’s rapist. Nor is my intention to paint anti-abortion taxpayers as the real victims here. Carrying a pregnancy to term involves immense physical and psychological (not to mention financial) commitment and extreme pain, and it can put a woman’s life and health at risk. Pregnancy caused by a rapist compounds and intensifies this suffering. Remote material cooperation with abortion isn’t in the same universe.

However, classifying the bill’s sponsors as the protectors of rapists fails miserably to understand the motives of the sponsors. It’s somewhat akin to pro-lifers painting abortion rights advocates as worshipers of Moloch. Critics can disagree with the bill and point out the negative consequences the bill will have for women, but, seriously, they should respond to what the sponsors are actually attempting to do, attempt to understand their reasons for doing so, and, if they suspect underlying ulterior motives, offer evidence that actually points to those motives. Otherwise, they’re not really taking the efforts of the sponsors seriously. They’re not really responding to the proposed legislation.

[Update]

Does this bill's new definition of rape have any legal consequence beyond what abortions will be covered with federal government assistance?  I'm not a lawyer and honestly don't know, but I haven't yet seen an argument that the language of this bill could be used a precedent for changing the overall legal meaning of rape.