Just an Emotional Issue

The outrage du jour is that House Republicans are backing a bill that tightens already restricted federal funding for abortion by re-defining “rape.” The old restrictions were that federal funds could be used to pay for abortions in the case of rape, incest, or to save a woman’s life. But H.R.3 – No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act specifies that the rape exception is only for forcible rape.

This leaves out non-forcible rape, which would include underage, physically helpless, and mentally incompetent victims. I believe it would leave out a woman who was violated after being doped with roofies. From West’s Encyclopedia of American Law:

Most jurisdictions have special statutes for sex offenses committed with an underage victim, usually termed statutory rape laws. … The law also considers physically helpless and mentally disabled victims to be incapable of giving consent to sexual acts. Physically helpless individuals include those who are unconscious, paralyzed, restrained, or otherwise incapable of resisting the sexual acts. Mentally disabled victims may include those who are permanently mentally disabled or those who are drugged and in a temporary state of mental disability. Some state statutes even include involuntarily intoxicated individuals in the category of temporarily mentally disabled victims.

Further, under the proposed law, if the parents of a 12-year-old impregnated by a 34-year-old pay for an abortion themselves, they cannot use funds from a Health Savings Account or use the cost as a medical deduction for tax purposes.

So far reactions to this on the blogosphere are coming from the Left, with the exception of James Joyner, who writes that “the rape exception was never logical but rather a concession to an emotional issue.”

That is, if one believes a fetus at a given stage of development is a human life worthy of protection by law, the events leading to the pregnancy are irrelevant. We don’t, after all, countenance the murder of post-birth children conceived pursuant to rape. But the idea that a woman should be forced to bear the emotional trauma of carrying a constant reminder of a violent, awful crime for nine months — and then be forced to either look at the child every day or bear the alternative trauma of giving up the baby — is just so emotionally wrenching that we’ve carved out an exception.

So big of us. But Joyner keeps digging —

But does this really hold in the case of a statutory rape which, despite the name, frequently isn’t really a rape at all?

No? Who says?

Again, this is a queasy subject.

In other words, it’s “just emotional.”

We can all agree that a 9-year-old lacks the emotional maturity to give meaningful consent to sex with an adult and that an adult who violates a child is a rapist. But we’ve raised the bar on childhood in recent years, extending it well into puberty. Within living memory, it was common, at least in rural areas, for girls to marry and start having children in early puberty. Generally, with men significantly older than they were. Now, though, most states make it a crime for a 19-year-old to have consensual sex with their 16-year-old girlfriend.

Is a pregnancy arising from that circumstance really comparable to one arising from being jumped in a dark ally by a stranger and violated under threat of death? Really?

Well, Joyner, I’d say that until you’ve been through it yourself you have no way to know. But then, I’d argue that the people with “emotional” issues are the Republicans who would rather compel a 12-year-old, or someone too mentally or physically impaired to resist, to go through with a pregnancy than help her terminate it. And I think it’s a damn shame people let their emotions get in the way of judgment or even an average amount of human compassion. But that’s Republicans for you.

Joyner doesn’t agree with the law, mind you, but only because he thinks it’s bad politics.

Steve M. reminds us that many righties continue to cling to the fiction that rape doesn’t result in pregnancy, anyway, and he links to some “right to life” sites making that claim.

Dennis G. at Balloon Juice re-names the bill The Rapist Protection Act of 2011. Yeah, pretty much. See also Scott Lemieux.

Related: See Nicholas Kristof, “Tussling Over Jesus.”