I wanted to at least make a couple of observations about this whole “redefinition of rape” thing in the H.R. 3 (the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act”).
It looks like the GOP has backed down in the use of the qualified term “forcible rape” in referring to the rape exception. But I want my thoughts on the record anyway.
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Yes, it’s true: The legislation did not actually offer a definition of rape, and so technically it didn’t redefine it. It restricted instead the applicability of the term in a particular context. It didn’t say rape is only forcible act. Rather, it said that it exempted only situations involving forcible rapes. But this is a difference without a distinction, as I hope to show.
To reason about charged topics, I like to move them into a conceptually neutral space so that I can see clearly without worrying about whether I’m trying to bias the reasoning to my own preferred outcome. Please indulge such an example of wordplay in order to illustrate my point.
Consider that if the legislation needed an exception for Martians, someone might have written “except for white-skinned Martians.” But we all know Martians have green skin. So has there been an exception made for Martians? I’d say not. Have we redefined Martian? Well, no, not exactly. We have, however, so heavily qualified the term that it left out the important exception from the legislation—no Martians will get an exception. So it would be unfair to say “There is now an exception for Martians,” wouldn’t it? The only way such a statement would continue to make sense is if you intended, as a side-effect of the usage, to claim that the usage was the new definition of Martian. Saying, “oh, there’s an exception for Martians” is disingenuous at best. It makes sense only if we should construe the meaning of “Martians” to refer to the restricted set of Martians mentioned in the legislation, and so, implicitly, it seems to redefine the meaning of the word.
And so, back to reality, if you want to make this change, the minimum you should expect is for people to say “You have removed the rape exception.” For anyone to say there is still a rape exception is, in effect, for them to say that rape no longer means what it did.
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I’ve also seen it argued that:
“... even if Republicans were to exempt every type of rape from being paid for with federal funds, it still wouldn’t change the existing rape legislation. Rather, it would only change which of these abortions can swallow up money from unwilling taxpayers.”
No, that’s not right. See my article My Slice of the Pie (Again) for details of the argument. But it turns out that not all of the money in the budget came from those taxpayers with objections, and so if money is spent it cannot automatically be construed to have come from those taxpayers. There is plenty of money in there from “willing taxpayers” that will cover.
If anyone wants to talk unwilling taxpayers, let’s talk Iraq and Afghanistan war, shall we?
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I’ve heard it claimed that the Republican leadership doesn’t care about abortion. They just use it as flamebait to get gullible supporters to rush to the polls. The claim is, and I see no evidence to the contrary, that they’d rather these things not pass because it just infuriates their base more and makes them want to consistently show up to vote.
In The Atlantic Wire, Caitlin Dickson writes::
“I suspect the heinousness of this latest attack is no accident. The conservatives understand the art of negotiation and I think they have put this provision in there for the express purpose of creating a firestorm, drawing the attention of the pro-choice groups and then "reluctantly" giving it up in exchange for the Democrats giving in on all the other, less sexy, changes they really want. Changes which will restrict abortion for far more people throughout the country than this rape redefinition ever would.”
I think she’s hit it right on the nose.
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One final thought about how to drive all of this home. This is my own synthesis, just turning the arguments of the Right back on itself. Perhaps it will get the point across:
The No Taxpayer Money for Hypocrites Act
Resolved: That there shall be no federal money spent protecting super-wealthy individuals from any but forcible theft.
This wouldn’t really change the definition of theft. Theft would still be illegal. So it would basically be just an administrative variation on the status quo, right? What’s the harm? All this would do is, to paraphrase the quote earlier in this article, “change which of these thefts can swallow up money from unwilling taxpayers.”
I’m quite confident I can drum up some unwilling taxpayers to back that up, so this should just sail through Congress, right?
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