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Violation by Congress: Denying Abortion Assistance to Rape Victims

Being raped is awful enough, but as any rape victim can tell you, the assault itself is often just the beginning of your troubles.  In an ideal world, you could just go straight to the police, not just to get justice, but in order to stop a rapist, since most rapists are repeat offenders and attack a number of victims if not stopped.  You would reach out to others for support, and you would get it.  You would be believed.  You would get swift, quality medical care.

In the real world, this often doesn’t work out.  Being believed is a big obstacle for victims, especially if their attackers have some social status.  The criminal justice system is torturous, and many victims report feeling like they’ve been raped all over again, particularly when faced with defense attorneys who use past sexual activity as “evidence” that you had relinquished your right to say no.  For these reasons, it’s understandable that many rape victims just give up, and don’t try to get support at all.

But for one class of victims, shoving the rape down the memory hole and not reaching out for help isn’t an option.  If you’re forcibly impregnated along with being raped, then you have to get medical care.  Many victims require an abortion.  And it’s these women that Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) particularly singled out for added abuse in the misnamed “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act”, which has language that implies that any rape victim who wasn't also beaten down isn’t really a rape victim.  Yes, that includes minors who have been abused by older men. All of these women, if impregnated in the course of their assault, will be put in the same bucket as women who were impregnated during consensual acts, as ineligible for any insurance funding for abortion.  (Functionally, at least---the bill is complex, but the result of it will be the end of insurance funding or health care savings account funding for abortion.) 

Obviously, this bill is an attack on all women. Even if you deliberately had sex, you should have a right to equal access to abortion funding as for any other health care funding. Restrictions on abortion care are sexist discrimination.  But by putting rape victims into a hierarchy, where 70 percent of rapes aren’t considered “real” rapes, and then requiring women to prove they’re “worthy” rape victims, you are adding insult to injury for women who are going through the trauma of rape and forcible impregnation. 

Sadly, we have a pretty good idea how traumatic it can be to require that rape victims prove themselves if they want decent medical care.  This belief that some rape victims don’t deserve good treatment because they were somehow not raped enough is so pervasive that many rape victims who aren’t pregnant still find themselves faced with callous treatment at the hands of medical professionals who don’t think rape counts without a solid beatdown to accompany it---or who think that rape just doesn’t count as assault at all.

Take, for instance, the story of a Howard University student who found that getting help after a rape can be impossible if you had anything to drink prior to the rape.  (Would we suggest that mugging victims gave up their right to keep their possessions if they consumed alcohol prior to the mugging?)  The student tried to do the right thing after she claims she was raped at a party---she tried to go to the hospital and submit to what is often a miserable and humiliating rape kit, in the hopes of getting both justice and decent medical care.  But as Amanda Hess notes, she was stonewalled at every turn.

That weekend, Hannah claims that she was provided the following excuses for why she could not receive a sexual assault medical forensic examination: She was drunk; she ate a sandwich; she was a liar; she didn’t know her attacker’s last name; the police had to authorize the exam; she was outside the hospital’s jurisdiction; she wasn’t reporting a real crime; she was blacked out; she changed her story; her case was already closed.

While suffering through this, Hannah was basically denied the right to take care of her body, eat, brush her teeth, or even to shower, because she didn’t want to destroy evidence. The only medical care she received for the rape was some drugs to prevent the transmission of HIV. 

Hannah’s case is sadly not unusual.  Many rape victims find sexist, suspicious medical and police officials are willing to further their trauma by blocking access not just to justice, but to medical care after a rape.  Women’s rights activists have discovered an epidemic of women being denied access to emergency contraception after a rape, even though the sooner the drugs are taken the more likely they are to work.  Some states have passed laws requiring that this access is provided, but since women are often stonewalled in getting rape kits done in the first place, there are holes in the system. And even if you do get the necessary rape kit, there's no guarantee that it will be processed.

Chris Smith and the 182 co-sponsors of HR3 don’t think rape victims have suffered enough.  On top of all these other miseries, they want those impregnated to prove the rape was somehow rape-y enough to get an abortion.  They want rape victims to have to convince bureaucrats---who may or may not be sympathetic to rape victims---that they were beaten enough, threatened enough, in enough fear of their lives before they are allowed funding to avoid giving birth to a rapist’s child.  Anyone who falls short will be told that she has to pay for it herself, with the implication being that she somehow asked to be forced to have sex and forced to be pregnant by a man gets off on raping women. 

The only silver lining in all this is that it’s a good opportunity to highlight how little anti-choicers care about women.

If you want to follow the online reaction, a Twitter hashtag labeled #dearjohn (for John Boehner, who called this bill a “top priority”) has been started.  You can learn more about the Twitter campaign from Sady Doyle, who started the hashtag.      


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