Which of these people’s legal, first trimester abortions should be covered by Medicaid?
A. A fourteen-year-old girl who is “in a relationship” with her forty-year-old soccer coach — until he finds out she’s pregnant.
B. A college sophomore whose date makes sure her cup of Everclear punch has left her incoherent, unable to stand and barely conscious before raping her.
C. A woman whose husband demands unprotected sex after months of withholding money, flushing her birth control pills, cutting her off from her friends and screaming at her that she’s a worthless, unlovable piece of garbage.
D. An unemployed twenty-year-old woman living at home whose father has been raping her since she was twelve.
E. A transgender man — a person who identifies as male and has a uterus — who is drugged and raped by a man who decides to punish him for his gender expression and “prove he’s really a woman.”
If you’re working from the current text of H.R. 3, the recently introduced, Republican top-priority “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act,” the answer is “None of the above.”
In fact, the answer is “None of the above, and they should also not be allowed to pay for abortions with their privately purchased insurance policies that receive tax credits from the federal government or their tax-exempt health savings accounts.”
This bill aims to eliminate all direct and indirect governmental funding of abortion, even banning tax credits to private insurers who provide abortion coverage.
The bill does provide some limited exceptions if a pregnant woman’s life (not health, but life) is in danger. There is also an exception for rape and incest — at least, some rape and incest. Friday, Mother Jones reporter Nick Baumann rallied pro-choice forces when he pointed out that in the bill the exception is only for forcible rape, and incest when the victim is under eighteen.
The U.S. federal criminal code doesn’t define “forcible rape,” but it does distinguish between forms of “aggravated sexual abuse” that occur “by force or threat,” “by other means,” which includes forcibly rendering a person unconscious, and “with children.”
This code doesn’t definitively determine what would be included under “forcible rape” in this bill — it would probably vary from state to state, which have their own criminal codes — but it does suggest that statutory rape and rape “by other means” are excluded.
And that means that unless a pregnant rape survivor can prove there was physical force or that her rapist was threatening her life, she may be denied the funding she needs to get an abortion. The claims of the hypothetical rape and incest survivors above could easily be denied — and that denial could mean they might be forced to carry their rapists’ babies to term, or resort to desperate measures to end the pregnancies.
“Forcible” May Be Removed
After an outcry from pro-choice advocates, one lead Democratic co-sponsor of the bill, Representative Dan Lipinski, said he was not intending to prevent any rape survivors from obtained Medicaid-funded abortions.
When I called his office yesterday morning, the staff person who answered the phone told me that the “forcible” qualifier was “an error in the writing of the bill.” I asked if that meant it would be removed, and he said that he believed that was the plan — not an entirely satisfying answer, but a welcome contrast to the “We’ll be mailing out comments about this issue soon to the people who call in” response I got from bill sponsor Representative Smith’s office.
The Rape Exception Myth
In terms of numbers, if the bill passes, the exact wording of the exception isn’t going to affect many survivors. As Stephanie Poggi at the Center for American Progress wrote years ago, the “rape exception” currently in place through the Hyde Amendment may make anti-abortion laws more palatable for some, but it’s actually only helping a handful of rape survivors. If the “forcible” is removed, this bill will be largely the same.
In 2005, PBS Frontline reported that every year approximately 13,000 women have abortions after surviving rape or incest. These women should be exceptions to the Hyde Amendment, and be eligible to have their procedures covered by Medicaid — yet each year, an extraordinarily small number of abortions are funded with federal monies.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, in fiscal year 2006, the federal government contributed to the cost of only 191 abortions. Considering that about 42% of all U.S. abortions are sought by women with incomes below the poverty line, it’s next to impossible that so few of the thousands of rape survivors seeking terminations needed the Hyde Amendment’s “rape exception.”
Stephanie Poggi writes,
In some cases, state Medicaid officials simply assert that they never cover abortion, either because they do not understand the rape/incest exception or because they do not believe in assisting women and girls with abortion under any circumstances. In other cases, the burdensome paperwork requirements on the part of the woman needing assistance, the police, and doctors ensure that payment is never made – or will never come in time for the woman to obtain an abortion. In still other cases, the reimbursement from the state to abortion providers is so low that clinics no longer choose to go through the complicated and rarely successful process of seeking coverage.
Deborah Kacanek et. al. of Ibis Reproductive Health conducted in-depth interviews with twenty-five abortion providers about Medicaid reimbursements in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment. The authors echo many of Poggi’s points, like the paperwork burden and the refusal of some claims reviewers to authorize payment because of their personal beliefs.
The interviewers also concluded that one of the reasons there were so few Medicaid reimbursements under the rape/incest exceptions was because victims were hesitant to identify themselves as survivors of rape, especially when their rapist was also their husband or boyfriend.
So whether the exception in the “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act” is for “rape” or only “forcible rape,” only a tiny fraction of the rape survivors who need abortions will end up getting the funds they need. Even those who do get the funding may do so at painful personal cost, like being forced to file a police report and risk their rapist’s retribution in order to satisfy an HMOs’ administrative requirements.
That doesn’t mean that keeping “forcible” in the bill is acceptable. Making an exception for forcible rape alone reinforces the ugly idea that some people are responsible for being raped, and that if they aren’t beaten bloody, it’s their fault if their rapist gets them pregnant. It hurts survivors of rape financially, mentally, emotionally and physically. It does matter that the “forcible” was inserted into the language of the bill.
However, the ineffectiveness of the rape exception under Hyde also means that if we’re serious about wanting rape survivors to have access to abortion, an exception to bans on funding abortion isn’t nearly enough. If you’re anti-abortion funding, except in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment, you need to know: practically, the exceptions aren’t being made.
Your choice is between acknowledging that anti-abortion measures force rape and incest survivors to carry their pregnancies to term, or supporting choice.
We need to let Congress know that “forcible” rape isn’t the only real kind of rape, and we also need to let them know that advocates for reproductive rights won’t be satisfied with the changing of an adjective.
We need to reject the mindset that if “forcible” is removed from the bill, then anti-abortion advocates will have compromised, and that pro-choice advocates should now compromise by acquiescing in the bill’s passage.
Care2 has a petition you can sign specifically objecting to the restriction of abortion funding exceptions to “forcible” rape.
You can also sign a petition opposing the entire “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act,” urging Congress to refrain from extending restrictions on abortion funding and penalizing private insurers who provide comprehensive reproductive health coverage.
If you’re on Twitter, Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown is running a campaign to tell Congress to maintain the exceptions for rape: you can join in by tweeting @johnboehner and other representatives, and using the hashtag #DearJohn.
In addition, call or email your Representative — remember, you’re paying them a lot of money to make good laws.
Republicans Introduce “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act”
The “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act” Should Not Pass
At Least 78 Republican Candidates Would Force Women to Have Rapists’ Babies
This photo was found on Tim Pierce (qwrrty)'s flickr, and is reused with thanks under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.