Redefining rape

Rape is defined as sexual assault, usually involving intercourse, where consent has not been given by one of the parties involved. Based on this definition, it would mean that, in all instances of rape, there is at least one victim being forced into the situation unwillingly.

This idea, for most people, is common sense; it is quite clear that rape is a forcible act and definitely one that should not be taken lightly.

However, Chris Smith, a Republican representative for New Jersey, has a drastically different understanding of rape and the definition of the crime than the rest of us.

Two weeks ago, Smith introduced a House bill entitled “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” as a proposed method for making the Hyde Amendment a permanent fixture in America, rather than having to undergo annual renewal by Congress as it does now.

The Hyde Amendment, in place since 1976, determines a woman’s eligibility for Medicaid-funded abortions. The language in the Amendment clarifies that taxpayer funds are not to be used for abortions, except in instances involving rape, incest, and if the pregnancy is declared dangerous to the mother’s health.

While it seems impossible for everyone to see eye to eye on abortion, a type of quasi-truce had been reached between pro-life and pro-choice advocates that boils down to one major decision: taxpayer dollars will not go towards funding abortions unless they are absolutely necessary.

Necessary, in this case, means rape, incest and danger to the overall health of the mother. This was the case until Smith’s newly proposed bill changed the original language in the Hyde Amendment. If it were to become permanent, the amendment will then state abortions will only be federally funded in cases of “forcible rape” rather than just “rape.”

Proposing legislation that limits federal funding for abortions is one thing. I can pretend to get on board with the idea that taxpayers should not have their dollars used towards supporting an infinite number of abortions. This is not because I am pro-life; in fact, I’m quite the opposite.

I strongly believe that a woman’s body is her own, and what she decides to do with it is entirely up to her – ethical repercussions and all. No one should be able to tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body, least of all a guy like Chris Smith.

Having said this, I won’t attempt to dispute the fact that the Hyde Amendment puts unfair limitations on the types of abortions that can be performed with federal funding. The main issue at stake here is the change of the bill’s language from “rape” to “forcible rape.”

For a rape to be defined as “forcible,” the victim must be able to demonstrate physical evidence that the rape occurred. Being able to show bruising, lacerations or broken bones elevates a “regular” rape to a what’s known as a “forcible rape”.

Following this, if a rape cannot be categorized as “forcible,” then the pregnant victim is not eligible for an abortion paid for by the state. She would be on her own.

The idea that rape must be “forcible” to actually be considered rape is like saying that a chicken must lay eggs in order to be considered a chicken. Eggs or no eggs, no one is going to look at that chicken and call it a duck. It is what it is, and no number of eggs will change that. Similarly, rape is a forced, non-consensual act, regardless of whether or not there is evidence to show that it was “forcible.”

Furthermore, what message does this send to the rest of society? Are we now telling the rapists of the world to please be gentle with their victims because, if they’re lucky and smart enough to leave behind no physical evidence, the rape may not actually be acknowledged as “forcible”?

The largest problem in the proposed language change of the Hyde Amendment, or perhaps the largest reward in the minds of people supporting the bill, is that it severely restricts what it means to be a victim of rape. Under this new language, cases of coerced rape, drugged rape, statutory rape, and rapes of women with limited mental capacity are no longer considered rapes since the level of force is indeterminable.

This means that should women of these types of rape become pregnant, and decide to have an abortion, their procedures will not be paid for by federal funding. Aside from how disgustingly unfair this proposition is, it also creates new problems that could be as extreme as victims self-inflicting injuries in order to qualify as a “forcible” rape victims.

Currently, 173 House members support the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” including ten democrats. Thankfully though, a week after the bill was proposed, the “forcible rape” clause was removed due to protests from many women’s rights groups including the National Organization for Women.

However, this hasn’t entirely put an end to the discussion surrounding the Hyde Amendment. As long as Chris Smith and his loyal band of pro-life followers are around, the issue of taxpayer funding for abortions will be continually disputed. I just hope that in the meantime, no one else will be so foolish as to try to redefine a word that has already been so clearly defined in the past.

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