The Republican Attempt to Redefine Rape, Reprised
Posted on May 3, 2011
Good sense and decency prevailed earlier this year when House Republicans, responding to being shamed, abandoned their attempt to block federal funding for abortions by redefining rape in the proposed No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, but a new trick involving an interpretive companion document may now allow them to create the same effect.
H.R. 3—the anti-abortion bill—originally denied federal money for abortions to victims of statutory rape, making financial assistance available only to those who had suffered “forcible rape.” While the redefinition is gone from the original legislation, it has reappeared with a twist in a “committee report,” which would be used to interpret the law in the rare (ha ha) event that its meaning is contested. —ARK
The backdoor reintroduction of the statutory rape change relies on the use of a committee report, a document that congressional committees produce outlining what they intend a piece of legislation to do. If there’s ever a court fight about the interpretation of a law—and when it comes to a subject as contentious as abortion rights, there almost always is—judges will look to the committee report as evidence of congressional intent, and use it to decide what the law actually means.
In this case, the committee report for H.R. 3 says that the bill will “not allow the Federal Government to subsidize abortions in cases of statutory rape.” The bill itself doesn’t say anything like that, but if a court decides that legislators intended to exclude statutory rape-related abortions from eligibility for Medicaid funding, then that will be the effect.
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Chris Smith (R-N.J.) is one of the primary authors of the proposed No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.