No, No-One Is Trying To “Redefine” Rape
No, the legislation does not in any way "suggest that some kind of rape that would be okay."
The most odious smear of the week has been the Democrats’ attempt to convince the public that the GOP wants to make some kinds of rape okay. As one would expect from such an outrageous talking point, it (a) is totally false, and (b) has been taken up with gusto by the worst elements of the new civility chorus.
The bill would, like the Hyde amendment that applies to Medicaid and Medicare, establish a government-wide ban on taxpayer-funding for abortion, except in the cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is endangered. Because the bill says that funding is only allowed for “forcible” rape, some Democrats say that would change the definition of rape, as to exclude both statutory rape and rape that occurs when a woman is incapacitated.
But the legislation does not in any way “suggest that some kind of rape that would be okay.” There is absolutely no evidence that the legislation would “redefine” rape as to exclude a case in which an incapacitated woman is sexually assaulted. As Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee says, it would merely codify the longstanding interpretation of the Hyde amendment regarding statutory rape.
[T]he word “forcible,” therefore, appears to be a redundancy, as far as this law is concerned, and is likely to be stripped since its primary purpose now is to smear pro-lifers and divert attention from legislation that is supported by about two-thirds of American voters.
But even if they change the language, it probably won’t be too long until Democrats find another reason to link Republicans to rape.
UPDATE (James Joyner): I agree with Dodd and Johnson on this interpretation. My 28 February post “House Republicans Want to Redefine Rape,” which focused entirely on statutory rape cases involving truly consensual sex between a 19-year-old and his 16-year-old girlfriend.
Forcible Rape, by UCR definition, it the carnal knowledge of a person forcibly or against that person’s will, or when a victim is mentally or physically incapable of giving consent. Attempts to commit rape are included in this category. One offense is counted for each victim of rape. Statutory rapes and other types of sexual assaults are not counted as rape under the UCR program.
Under longstanding practice, the Hyde Amendment had excluded statutory rape from the “rape and incest exception.” This bill would have simply codified that practice.
Unfortunately, people reading the term “forcible rape” either innocently or willfully misunderstood it, instead applying lay interpretation and attributing malice to the authors. But the idea that lawmakers wanted to make it okay to drug women to have sex with them or to force themselves on the mentally disabled is just absurd.
UPDATE 2 (James Joyner): I’ve been in meetings all day but several commenters have pointed out that UCR reporting categories don’t quite amount to a legal consensus. That’s a fair point, at least in terms of how the law might be interpreted. I do, however, think the UCR definition is likely what the people who wrote the new law had in mind. The ambiguity has caused them to rewrite the law, omitting the “forcible” qualifier.