GOP To Drop “Forcible Rape” Language From Abortion Bill

In response to charges that it was attempting restrict abortion access beyond the boundaries of the Hyde Amendment, the GOP has agreed to drop the phrase "forcible rape" from its abortion bill.

Both James Joyner and Dodd Harris have written about the controversy that has erupted over the wording of the bill House Republicans have introduced related to taxpayer funding for abortion. Wisely, the GOP has decided to avoid the battle that was likely to erupt from what in retrospect was a poor job of legislative drafting:

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.

“The word forcible will be replaced with the original language from the Hyde Amendment,” Smith spokesman Jeff Sagnip told POLITICO, referring to the long-standing ban on direct use of taxpayer dollars for abortion services.

The fight over the definition of rape threatened to sabotage Republican efforts to highlight their push to end taxpayer subsidies for abortion, and the distinction between types of rape mystified some GOP aides.

That highlighted quote is interesting in that it suggests that Smith was intending to differentiate the definition of rape in the bill from the one in the Hyde Amendment, and to make it harder for poor women to obtain abortions.

Personally, I don’t have a dog in this fight. Abortion simply isn’t an issue I’m interested in discussing anymore because it’s clear that compromise among those on both sides simply isn’t possible, and you can’t have a political discussion when one side accuses the other of being a “baby killer.” My default position is that the government shouldn’t be involved in this decision at all, whether or not it’s right or wrong. When it comes to funding, I’m generally libertarian.

However, it seems pretty clear that Smith was trying to pull a fast one here.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. mantis says:

    Nice try, Republicans, but your attempt to sneak in a rape downgrade ain’t gonna work this time.

    There are other fights to win though, brave GOPers! For instance, your attempts to thwart the wishes of the voters of Missouri and pass new laws allowing you to torture puppies may succeed!

    Next up, legalizing punching little girls in the face!

    Only antisocial psychotics would associate themselves with the Republican Party these days. Sadly, our country has a lot of those.

  2. narciso says:

    The Journolist wins again, you take great dictation Doug, Long live Minitrue!

  3. michael reynolds says:

    So, summarizing: they stuck the language in, fought for it by claiming it meant nothing. And now they’re dropping it.

    Your GOP at work.

  4. Gustopher says:

    I don’t think this was a “poor job of legislative drafting”, I think it meant exactly what they intended it to mean.

  5. george says:

    This was always a bone for their most radical supports, which they had no intention on having pass – even most Republicans draw the line at banning abortion for rape.

    In fact, most of the Republican leaders have taken the same approach to abortion – speak out against it to pro-lifers, change the topic when speaking to the pro-choicers, and never get around to it when in a position to pass legislation.

    Not unlike the way the Democratic leaders treat their followers when it comes to real public health care.

    Don’t know why, I’m in a real cynical mood today. Must be the weather.

  6. anjin-san says:

    > In fact, most of the Republican leaders have taken the same approach to abortion – speak out against it to pro-lifers, change the topic when speaking to the pro-choicers, and never get around to it when in a position to pass legislation.

    Its certainly what Reagan did. Of course today’s GOP does not venerate Reagan, the man, who was a pragmatic politician who was pretty skilled at working with the other side. Just some caricature of him that they have invented.