Good politicians need firm principles, the courage to stick with them, and the common sense not to kneecap their efforts right out of the gate. You’d think that last part would go without saying…but you’d be wrong.
Case in point: Republican Congressman Chris Smith and Democrat Congressman Daniel Lipinski have introduced H.R.3, which seeks to further restrict federal funding for abortion. Under existing law, public money may be used for abortions sought due to rape or incest, but the new bill would only cover cases of “forcible rape.” LifeNews.com reports that bill is meant to “roll into one permanent law all of the many provisions and riders attached to the various bills funding the federal government that are passed each year,” eliminating the need to re-fight the same battles annually.
This, predictably, has many leftists shrieking that conservatives are trying to define rape down. At the Daily Beast, pro-abortion zealot Michelle Goldberg hysterically condemns the “GOP Abortion Bill” (no mention of its Democrat co-sponsor):
Victims of statutory rape—say, a 13-year-old girl impregnated by a 30-year-old man—would be on their own. So would victims of incest if they’re over 18. And while “forcible rape” isn’t defined in the criminal code, the addition of the adjective seems certain to exclude acts of rape that don’t involve overt violence—say, cases where a woman is drugged or has a limited mental capacity. “It’s basically putting more restrictions on what was defined historically as rape,” says Keenan.
Beyond that, says Keenan, the bill would give states the option of refusing Medicaid coverage for all abortions, even in the most brutal of rape cases, or when a medical complication leaves a woman’s life at risk.
These effects are only horrendous to those who can’t envision people managing to do anything without the government subsidizing it (plus those who ignore the part about dead babies). But the bill manifestly does not bar anyone from getting an abortion for any reason; it simply restricts the circumstances under which you can make your fellow citizens fork over money for that abortion.
Because of other provisions of H.R. 3, the bill’s restrictions would also affect women who don’t qualify for Medicaid or work for the federal government. During the debate over health-care reform, Bart Stupak and Joseph Pitts put forward an amendment that would have banned health-insurance policies that cover abortion, as 87 percent do, from participating in the proposed health-insurance exchanges. The Stupak-Pitts amendment would have created an overwhelming incentive for private plans to drop abortion coverage in order to be eligible for government subsidies.
It was defeated, but the new bill, H.R. 3, goes far beyond it—NARAL calls it “Stupak on Steroids.” Under the new bill, policies that cover abortion would be ineligible for the tax breaks that individuals and small businesses get when they purchase insurance. It essentially imposes a new tax on the vast majority of health-care plans unless they drop abortion coverage, even for some victims of sexual assault.
Um, Michelle? This is one of the points conservatives were trying to get across to your side during the health care debate: the less you make health care dependent upon government subsidies and beholden to government dictates, the less need there is to argue over what should or shouldn’t be funded—in a truly free market, abortion coverage would be one of many things some companies would insure, others wouldn’t, and consumers could decide accordingly.
Goldberg concludes with a warning that H.R.3 indicates a “startling new extremism in the GOP,” a party “that is willing to go further than most people realize to force women to bear children against their will.” This is pretty pedestrian feminist garbage—right-wingers are going further right all the time, evil men want to control you, and pay no attention to that ultrasound behind the curtain—but what’s unique here is her accusation that the bill “will send a message to all women that certain kinds of sexual assault don’t count as rape at all.” And she's not the only one.
On the merits, it’s obviously not true—the bill does nothing to change the way rape is investigated, prosecuted, or punished. Alleging that someone doesn’t care about rape is about as vicious and dishonorable as politics can get, yet this brand of defamation is apparently exempt from the new culture of civil discourse demanded of us in the wake of the Tucson shooting.
The optics, though, are another matter. Targeting remaining tax subsidies for abortion is a worthy goal, but Smith and his colleagues should have expected that going after the rape exception was going to be met with a tough counteroffensive. That doesn’t mean you don’t do it, but it does mean that you either confront the issue head-on or you don’t—trying to split the difference and float new definitions for different kinds of rape, no matter how narrow or valid the legal purpose, was just asking for trouble, and should have been recognized as such right away.
Chris Smith is no rookie; he’s a fifteen-term Republican lawmaker who really has no excuse for not being more familiar with left-wing tactics. Let this be a lesson to the current Congress’s newly-elected Tea Party candidates: don’t be afraid to stick up for your principles, but pay attention to the other side. Learn to identify the openings they exploit. Most of their venom is unavoidable and can’t destroy those with the truth on their side; the true danger to conservative principles comes from self-inflicted wounds.