Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Shrinking the Size of Government

In 2010 the Republican Party ran on the platform of reducing the size of government and job creation. While the job creation part is debatable, with their only success so far being failure at repealing the health care bill, the reducing size of government is not. True to form, as was shown consistently in the Bush years, the GOP has set their sights on shrinking government so small it could fit in your pants. With the introduction of the No Taxpayer Funds for Abortion Act has genuinely outdone itself introducing a law that would undermine the establish consensus on the issue.

Abortion is a very contentious issue in modern American politics and has been since 1973 with the controversial Roe vs. Wade ruling. The main dividing line consistently has been the issue of being in favor of legalized abortions or opposition. Yet in spite of this well-established and reported divide a consensus in recent years has emerged. As shown in two recent polls by CBS News and the Virginia Commonwealth Institute Life Sciences Survey the most popular position on the issue is allowing for abortions to remain legal with certain restrictions. In the Virginia Commonwealth survey the number of Americans in favor of allowing exceptions for the health of the mother, rape, or incest outnumber those who support full repeal by a margin of 3 to 1. This tenuous consensus on the subject is best expressed in federal law by the Hyde Amendment:
SEC. 508. (a) The limitations established in the preceding section shall not apply to an abortion--

(1) if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest; or

(2) in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed.
The Hyde Amendment itself is not a law but a provision attached first to the 1976
budget as a compromise on the issue of federal funds from programs such as Medicaid and Medicare being used to pay for abortions. It was viewed by the young anti-abortion movement at the time as a major victory. Since 1976 the Hyde Amendment has been attached to every omnibus spending bill, most recently in the 2009 bill. It has stood as the established compromise on the subject for 35 years. This compromise mirrors the modern American public's general consensus of the legality of abortion.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago when the Republican Party, instead of tackling jobs, spending, or the economy, advanced the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act. The most odious provision would rewrite the core of the long-standing Hyde Amendment:
SEC. 309. Treatment of Abortions Related to Rape, Incest, or Preserving the Life of the Mother

The limitations established in sections 301, 302, 303, and 304 shall not apply to an abortion--

(1) if the pregnancy is an act of forcible rape, or incest with a minor; or

(2) in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified as a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-threatening physical condition, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.
This provision has attracted the bulk of the focus of the pro-choice movement and other opponents of the proposed bill. Unlike the Hyde Amendment this bill specifically declares the only form of rape that can receive public funding is "forcible rape." On its face this sounds reasonable and the argument has been made that this is not a substantive change. When one looks under the hood is when you discover what this would really mean if put into practice.

First off there is no definition offered anywhere in the bill itself for what constitutes "forcible rape". While the term is in use in American legal parlance and is on the books in states like Missouri and Louisiana it is found nowhere in federal law. The federal law dealing with rape, aggravated sexual abuse, does not use this term. It is not set as its own charge anywhere in US law. This lack of definition by itself is disturbing but what is worse is when you dig in to how "forcible rape" is used in US law. The FBI definition specifically calls out forcible rape as rape committed by force or threat of force. It specifically excludes other forms which are covered under the aggravated sexual abuse statute as "By Other Means". Rape that is considered by other means includes date rape and rendering the victim unconscious before violating them. This also leaves off statutory rape and victims who have diminished mental capacity. By only specifically covering "forcible rape" this bill has declared, as far as Medicaid is concerned, that these other forms of rape are somehow less heinous. It says if a woman is for whatever reason incapable of fighting back and she cannot afford the procedure herself then she's up the famous creek without a paddle. It says that a fetus conceived by date rape is more important than the victim.

Shockingly enough this is not the worst the bill would inflict on countless lives. In the same sentence as this arrogant dismissal of so many women the bill further declares that the only acts of incest eligible for funding are cases where the woman is a minor.

Yes, the bill would only allow public funds to be used in cases of incest where the woman is a minor. As it says in black and white:

"or incest with a minor"
There is no fathomable reason why this specific exclusion is necessary. There is no moral or ethical justification in any belief system of any kind in the world that condones incest in any fashion. The fact that the woman in question is not a minor does not change that incest is still incest. There's no special circumstances when incest magically stops being incest. Whatever the warped justification may be this reinforces the total disregard for women inherent in the thinking behind the abortion bill. It implies that if an adult woman, for whatever reason, is impregnated with a child by incest that on some level it was her fault. When you put it alongside forcible rape it shows a shocking disregard for women implying that somehow, on some level, they brought it on themselves and deserve what they get. This bill is the GOP's way of telling women everywhere, "The most important thing you could ever do is make a baby."

This bill isn't the product of some radical fringe element of the Republican Party. It has 173 co-sponsors the vast majority of which are Republicans. The sponsors, far from being obscure backbenchers, include Speaker of the House John Boehner and Tea Party icon Michelle Bachmann. The party has closed ranks on the bill working to push it through the House as quickly as possible with Tea Party Republicans falling in line. Instead of doing the will of the people as they claimed the GOP is advancing the interests of a tiny minority of religious fundamentalists who have yet to receive the memo that we live in the 21st century, not the 11th.

One can imagine there is some kind of twisted rationale for this assault on women's rights as a means to reduce the size of government. With sufficient mental gymnastics one could claim this is aimed at reducing waste and fraud in government. If one warps their logic enough it could be reasoned that women are somehow taking advantage of Medicaid. Or one could do even worse and turn a blind eye to the obvious injustice for the sake of nothing better than myopic partisan favoritism and claim the bill doesn't really say what is in black and white.

This makes even less sense than the incest clause.

Why in the name of all that is holy would a woman want to be a victim of rape or incest? How exactly can one abuse funding that is specifically for paying for a medical procedure? This isn't welfare or worker's comp fraud where one can take actual money. To somehow "game" the system the woman would have to be deliberately getting raped, conceiving a child, and going to Medicaid for help paying for the abortion.

There is no rational justification for the Republican Party to ram this bill through the House. This will not shrink the size of government to any noticeable degree. There is no moral or ethical reason to inflict this thing except in the minds of the most rabid Christian fundamentalists. By advancing this bill the GOP has shown that the Republican elephant can't and won't change its hide.

UPDATE: The House GOP has removed the most offensive section of the bill. Looks like they figured out that redefining rape isn't what the people had in mind last November.

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