Action against H.R. 3 (abortion/rape)
3 February 2011
Dear Representative X,
I am writing to urge you to oppose H.R. 3 (the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act), for which you are currently a co-sponsor, for the following reasons:
1) The bill changes virtually nothing having to do with abortion; because of the Hyde Amendment of 1976, tax funds currently do not pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or in cases when the mother’s health or life is at risk. Poor women already pay for their own abortions without federal assistance. The notion that this bill enacts much change is false. The only women affected by this bill are deeply impoverished and have been impregnated by rape or incest, or face serious health problems as a result of their pregnancy.
2) What the bill does accomplish is to radically redefine legal understandings of rape, incest, and risk to a mother’s health or life. It reduces the definition of rape to “forcible” rape—thus dangerously raising the standard of proof for that crime and eliminating statutory rape. Thus, if an impoverished 14-year-old girl is impregnated by her 30-year-old “boyfriend,” she cannot seek federal assistance to get an abortion. The bill limits the term incest to sex with minors; as a result, an impoverished 18-year-old girl raped by her father or uncle is out of luck. It delimits abortions only to those women whose life is at risk rather than those for whom childbirth would seriously damage their health but leave them alive—saddling already impoverished women with serious medical costs at the same time they must mother a newborn. (Thanks to Jill at Feministe for her insights on these issues.)
3) In redefining rape, incest, and risk to a mother’s health or life, the bill has the potential to alter non-abortion related legal understandings of those crimes. Considering that 1 in 6 American women has been raped—and that only 26% of rapes are committed by a stranger—it is radically dangerous for government to limit rape only to provably “forcible” crimes. Likewise, to delimit the crime of incest only to minors has the potential to green-light incest of young women who come of age. Our nation has an epidemic of sexual crimes against women; our government should be making no moves to ease criminal restrictions on those sexual crimes.
4) The bill seeks to impose anti-abortion ethics on entities wholly separate from government: namely, small businesses, individuals, and private insurers. It contains a stipulation that the federal government can withdraw tax subsidies for small businesses if their private insurance features coverage for abortion (and most private insurers do offer this coverage); likewise, it can withdraw tax benefits from individuals who purchase private health insurance that offers coverage for abortion. All of this appears designed to strong-arm private insurers into ending coverage for abortion; federal government should not be involved in telling private businesses what to believe or how to operate.
5) This bill seriously detracts from the truly important issues affecting the United States right now: namely, an impossibly high rate of unemployment and increasingly troubled state budgets. In fact, the bill only makes conditions worse for some Americans most at risk: those who are already poor, hungry, and under-employed.
As a professor at X University, I have spoken with many young women with histories of abuse and rape—legacies that are nearly impossible to live with. Their feelings of shame and guilt for having been sexually victimized affect them on a daily basis. In short, even with rape and incest laws as currently framed, these young women were too ignorant as a result of their youth, ashamed, or otherwise emotionally victimized to seek help. Because I’ve spoken with such women I find it all the more disturbing that our Republican state representatives would be so eager to make an anti-abortion point that they would come up with a bill as misleading and punitive to impoverished female victims as H.R. 3.
This is not the time to make the law harsher when it comes to policing sexual crimes against women, nor to make conditions remarkably worse for poor women in particular. I beg you to withdraw your co-sponsorship for H.R. 3 and to vote against it if it comes up for a full House vote.