10 February 2011

A Rape by Any Other Name

Last week, the Republicans in the House of Representatives removed a provision from at Act on the floor that would have been detrimental to women's rights and sent the wrong message to the public. Not to mention the damage it would do to language.

The 'No Taxpayer Funding for an Abortion Act' originated with Chris Smith, a Republican Representative from New Jersey. The purpose is pretty obvious—prevent the use of government money earmarked for health care and medicare being used to pay for abortions. The obvious goal behind this is to chip away at the current stance the government takes on abortion, with the ultimate goal to make it illegal. The stated impetus is to save government money in a time when our deficit is measured in numbers generally reserved for grade school children attempting hyperbole.

I won't get into the complicated and muddied topic of abortion; that's not in the scope of this blog, nor is it a topic i have considerable knowledge it. Suffice it to say, i know it's not always as black and white as each side paints it, so let's leave it there.

Instead, i want to talk about one word used in the No Taxpayer Funding for an Abortion Act, from this point referred to as House Resolution 3, or HR3. So much more concise. In the resolution, one passage stands out above the rest. It states the Act 'shall not apply to an abortion' if, for instance, 'the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest.' The document has since been changed to remove the word 'forcible,' but only after websites such as Mother Jones and MoveOn.org brought attention to the matter.

If 'forcible' were included in the bill, it would leave certain women up a creek without an option, for example, a woman raped while drugged, or a mentally challenged woman taken advantage of, or even certain instances of date rape.

I read a passage in President Obama's book The Audacity of Hope that rang true for this circumstance.
'Much of the time, the law is settled and plain. But life turns up new problems, and lawyers, officials, and citizens debate the meaning of terms that seemed clear years or even months before. For in the end laws are just words on a page—words that are sometimes malleable, opaque, as dependent on context and trust as they are in a story or poem or promise to someone, words whose meanings are subject to erosion, sometimes collapsing in the blink of an eye.'

What Obama refers to is the trouble we often have with interpretation of laws, often even the Constitution. We like to think of our laws, and especially our Constitution, as being immutable and firm. Firm they may be, but never immutable. The three branches of government are constantly re-examining documents and laws to further refine them.

The problem with HR3 is how it attempted to shortcut the process by refining the definition of 'rape.' Whomever was inspired to add the word 'forcible' probably thought they were being smart, removing the case for statutory rape, but being compassionate and allowing for abortions for those women who were physically beaten into submission.

Whether HR3 passes and becomes law is still to be seen, but if it does, it will allow for the original, broader and more compassionate, coverage.

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