Updated: 6:24p.m. ET
Abortion rights activists are decrying the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," a House bill that seeks to expand prohibitions regarding federal funding for abortions - and which opponents say attempts to redefine rape.
The bill (also known as H.R. 3) was introduced into the House last week by New Jersey Republican Chris Smith. It proposes making permanent some federal bans for abortion funding - including the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits health-care programs like Medicaid from covering abortions except in cases of rape, incest and danger to the mother's life. The Hyde Amendment is a provision that requires annual renewal by Congress that has been in place since 1976.
The "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," which currently has the support of 173 House members (including 10 Democrats), also prohibits employers and self-insured Americans from using tax breaks to buy private health insurance that covers abortion.
But the provision of H.R. 3 that has drawn the most widespread criticism from advocates of abortion rights is one regarding the exemption of pregnancies resulting from rape. The bill exempts a woman from the Hyde Amendment limitations only if she has become pregnant as the result of "forcible rape."
Critics argue that specifying the terms of rape as "forcible" in the legislation qualifies as a redefinition that excludes other forms of sexual assault - including statutory rape, which Mother Jones writes is often non-forcible.
In an interview with Hotsheet, Democratic Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz called the bill "nothing short of a violent act against women." She equated denying federal funds to a rape victim with the "hijacking of a woman's independence."
"I don't know how anybody could suggest that there is any rape that is acceptable," she said. "I just think it sends a very clear message direct from the heart of the Republican party to women in America about exactly how Republicans feel about women."
Terry O'Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), told Hotsheet she thought the bill was an attempt at "exposing women to the dangers of sexual assault after decades of efforts to stop it."
"It takes us right back to the 1950s, when women had to prove they were physically assaulted," she said.
Rep. Daniel Lipinski, one of the Democrats sponsoring H.R. 3, said in a statement it "was not intended to change existing law regarding taxpayer funding for abortion in cases of rape, nor is it expected that it would do so." (Rep. Smith did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the language of the bill.)
A representative for Lipinski told Hotsheet he would be open to removing the word "forcible" from the language of the bill.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican who co-sponsored the bill, told the Bakersfield Californian he expected the language of H.R. 3 would be revised in committee to reflect the Hyde Amendment's language that there are exceptions for all women who are raped - not necessarily only if it was deemed "forcible," he seemed to suggest. McCarthy said he himself would not offer that amendment, however, since he is not on the committee that will hear the bill. "But I'm sure we'll get to that point," McCarthy said.
Some defenders of the bill say that the outcry over the addition of the word "forcible" is being exaggerated, although Republicans and groups that oppose abortion rights have remained largely silent on the issue. The conservative Susan B. Anthony List, which aims to advance the voice of women in politics who oppose abortion rights, declined to comment on the matter, and multiple attempts by Hotsheet to reach Republican sponsors of the bill were not returned.