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GOP Drops Bid to Redefine Rape

 
 
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The House Republicans' "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" was odious enough at face value, but its provision redefining rape was simply inexcusable.

Existing law already restricts public funds for abortions, but there are exemptions for impregnated rape victims. This new effort, written by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), would severely limit what would legally be considered rape -- if a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, for example, she couldn't use Medicaid funds to terminate the pregnancy.

The uproar this week has been pretty intense, and as it turns out, pretty effective, too.

House Republicans plan to sidestep a charged debate over the distinction between "forcible rape" and "rape" by altering the language of a bill banning taxpayer subsidies for abortions.

The provision in question, written as an exemption from the ban for women who become pregnant as a result of "forcible rape," touched off a firestorm of criticism from women's groups, and it gained enough attention to become the subject of a satirical segment on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

But a spokesman for the bill's author, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), says the modifier "forcible" will be dropped so that the exemption covers all forms of rape, as well as cases of incest and the endangerment of the life of the mother.

As the week progressed, even Republicans who support the larger bill struggled to defend' the rape-definition provision, and the language threatened to scuttle the entire legislation. Smith's decision to drop this was a no-brainer, and should make House passage that much more likely.

But before we move on, it's worth emphasizing the fact that this bill is still awful, barring outright "the use of federal subsidies to buy any insurance that covers abortion well beyond the new exchanges."

The tax credits that are encouraging small businesses to provide insurance for their workers could not be used to buy policies that cover abortions. People with their own policies who have enough expenses to claim an income tax deduction could not deduct either the premiums for policies that cover abortion or the cost of an abortion. People who use tax-preferred savings accounts to pay medical costs could not use the money to pay for an abortion without paying taxes on it.

I'm glad proponents have dropped the effort to redefine rape, a move so offensive it's still hard to believe Republicans considered it. But make no mistake -- its removal does not make this a good bill.

Political Animal / By Steve Benen

Posted at February 3, 2011, 5:00am

 
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