Friday, February 4, 2011
“No” should always mean “No”
I’ve seen a lot of discussions in the comments about H.R. 3, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), a bill that was trying to re-define rape to mean only "forcible" rape. I wondered why that change would even be considered, decided to look deeper into the reasons behind it, and write a post about it. Right after I finished the post, I saw the good news that the controversial provision had been dropped. From TPM:
"Report: Republicans Give Up On Redefining Rape -- After pressure from women's groups, Democratic politicians and Jon Stewart, the authors of the controversial abortion bill in the House will drop language that appeared to exempt some rape victims from seeking federal help to pay for an abortion.
Though the House bill was never really likely to become law with a Democratically-controlled Senate and a committed pro-choice president in the White House, the language regarding forcible rape had created a firestorm among pro-choice activists and politicians around the country. Even pro-life Democrats who had signed on to the bill as co-sponsors questioned the forcible rape wording, which experts said would likely change which abortions could be covered under the rape and incest exemptions in existing federal law."
Nevertheless, I want to go ahead with the post I had drafted, both to highlight why we need to keep an eye on Congress now more than ever before, and to demonstrate that speaking out DOES work.
So why was the re-definition of rape even proposed? Right now, federal dollars can only be used for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or when the woman's life is in danger. By re-defining rape to mean only cases of forcible rape, but not statutory or coerced rape, Congress can limit the number of abortions paid for with tax payer dollars.
How many abortions are granted to women who are raped and paid for with taxpayer dollars? Well, in 2006, the most recent year on record, 191.
Yes, all this fuss is over 191 abortions a year.
H.R. 3’s original language would have meant that women who were raped while drugged, given excessive amounts of alcohol, have limited mental capacity, or date raped would no longer have been officially raped. If they did not have health insurance coverage, those women would no longer have been able to go to a clinic and request federal help in paying for their abortion. (If too economically disadvantaged to pay for their own abortion, they would have been forced to have the baby of their rapist.) And keep in mind that poorer women are far more likely to be date raped. In fact, the higher income is, the lower are reported intimate violence rates.
Once I learned all this, a light bulb went off in my head. I know someone who has been there. In high school, someone very close to me was date raped. She is also a Republican (not a teabagger, but a more traditional conservative). She lives a very different life from me – 1,500 miles away, surrounded by farm land and mega churches. I wanted to know what she thinks. I immediately called and asked her if she would be willing to share her personal experience and her feelings about this provision in H.R. 3. She agreed. Below is our conversation, during which I will refer to her as “Nickels.”
Leadfoot: There is a bill in congress right now, introduced by Republican Chris Smith and supported by 173 members of the House, which includes a provision that could redefine rape, setting women's rights back by decades. Have you heard of it and what do you think?
Nickels: Yes, I have heard of it. I feel that government intervention on the issue of rape should be limited and perhaps even decided on a case-by-case basis. You cannot make a blanket definition that covers every situation.
Leadfoot: How do you feel about redefining rape to be defined as only "forcible" instances of rape?
Nickels: I think that is like redefining all cars and saying they are all “sedans” or calling every mammal a “cat.” There are multiple forms of sexual activity that occur without consent, and they do not all necessarily involve violent force.
Leadfoot: Isn’t ALL rape "forcible," by definition -- and therefore, no redefinition should be necessary?
Nickels: Yes, by definition, all rape is by force. Sexual activity without consent is, after all, forcing yourself upon someone.
Leadfoot: Do you care to share your personal experience with date rape?
Nickels: I was willingly on a date with a kid in high school and we were fooling around. But he wanted to take it too far. We were at a party where no one could hear me due to being upstairs with loud music below. He told me that if I revealed what had happened, he would deny it and tell everyone, including my parents, that I was a whore and a slut. So I was scared, and he forced himself on me, without my consent or participation.
Leadfoot: Would you have felt any more raped had the perpetrator been a complete stranger? Or if he had beaten you up?
Nickels: I may have felt more battered and abused, but I was just as “raped” as someone who is abducted and raped by a stranger. But as we know -- most abductions, kidnappings, homicides and rapes are an act of violence committed by someone WE KNOW, not a stranger. So to try to define rape as stranger-rape eliminates a very large percentage of rapes.
Leadfoot: Do you feel this bill is sexist because it is being put forth by a man?
Leadfoot: You lean towards being a Republican/conservative. Would you be less likely to lean that way if this bill passes?
Nickels: Probably not. I don’t really define myself by party though, more by views on individual issues and candidates.
Leadfoot: Do you understand how Republican congresswomen could support such a law?
Nickels: I think any human who has not been exposed to the situation is not as sensitive to it. It is shameful, but it is parallel to a parent who has lost a teen in a drunk driving or texting accident. You just tend to relate less if it hasn’t happened to you.
I expressed that in my opinion, women's reproductive health care is already grossly underfunded, so we should not be making access even more difficult with more stringent laws. I also mentioned that H.R. 3 is full of other anti-choice provisions. It will raise the taxes of millions of American families who have a health plan that covers abortion, thereby also jeopardizing abortion coverage in the private market. Nickels said she hadn’t heard that part, and didn’t really have an opinion on it, but that overall, she is against H.R. 3.
With that, we ended our conversation. So what did I learn today? There are reasonable Republican women who stood with us against the re-defining rape provision. When similar issues come up in the future – we need to look at them as WOMAN issues, not Republican or Democrat issues. We need to get the word out to all of our friends, including the Republican ones, and ask them to look only at the issue at hand, and call their Congressmen and women. We need to tweet far and wide, and post them on Facebook. We need to ask for help. With enough voices, the Tea Party cannot win.
The provision in H.R. 3 was morally wrong. We stood against it. And we won.