The Republican-controlled House is considering limitations on federal funding for abortion that could be a crown jewel of the leadership's attempt to show constituents there's a new, socially conservative sheriff in town — if anyone was willing to discuss it.
It seems one of the only people willing to talk at all about the controversial abortion bill is one of its Democratic co-sponsors, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL). And he's not willing to embrace the language in the bill that appears to redefine rape in a way that would prevent some impregnated victims from having their abortions covered by insurance.
But it's radio silence from the pro-life community, which is usually more than willing to sound off on abortion and what needs to be done to stop it.
Over the course of Friday and Monday, TPM reached out to pro-life groups and Democratic and Republican pro-life politicians — some of whom have backed federal action on abortion with language similar to the House law, known as the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" — to talk about the new bill's language regarding "forcible rape." None responded, except Lipinski, who told TPM that he's willing to take another look at the controversial rape language.
A quick refresher: The House law, also known as H.R. 3, is designed to make permanent some existing bans on federal funding for abortion, like the Hyde Amendment, which prevents Medicaid from covering abortion except in the cases of rape or incest or for the life or health of the mother. The bill also prohibits employers and the self-insured from using widely-available tax breaks for buying private health insurance, if that insurance also covers abortion.
But the widest criticism of the bill comes in its exemptions for rape — provisions that would allow federal money or private insurance to be used to cover an abortion. H.R. 3 says those provisions would kick in only in cases of forcible rape, a distinction from other forms rape of that is largely undefined but seems to suggest that a rape that doesn't include violence wouldn't count. The bill would also limit the incest exemption to women under the age of 18 — meaning a victim of incest who was legally allowed to vote wouldn't have her abortion covered by Medicaid and would likely have more limited access to private insurance than she does today.
The health provision would also limit abortion coverage to cases where the woman's physical health was in danger if she gives birth. That would close a supposed loophole some abortion opponents have been talking about for years, in which doctors factor mental health in health-of-the mother decisions. (You can read the entire House bill here.)
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) did not respond to several requests for comment from TPM. Smith is a chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, a bipartisan group of anti-abortion legislators. He had plenty to say about the bill when he first brought it to the House last year, as reported by the anti-abortion site LifeNews.com:
"For over 30 years, a patchwork of policies has regulated federal funding for abortion. Together these various policies ensure that the American taxpayer is not involved in funding the destruction of innocent human life through abortion on demand," Smith wrote in a letter reported by the site. "This comprehensive approach will reduce the need for the numerous separate abortion funding policies and ensure that no program or agency is exempt from this important safeguard."
The site made no mention of the forcible rape language, and Smith's office wasn't interested in discussing it when we reached out.
The language isn't a first for Republican anti-abortion efforts. As TPM's Brian Beutler reported during the thick of the 2009 health care debate, anti-abortion members of Congress hoped to include the forcible rape language in the health care bill, as part of their efforts to ensure that no taxpayer funds would be used to cover abortion as the law went into effect. One version of the forcible rape language was offered in committee by three members of Congress: Reps. Joe Pitts (R-PA), Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO).
Pitts and Blunt are still in Congress, and Pitts is a co-sponsor of H.R. 3 (Blunt's now a Senator, so he can't co-sponsor a House bill.) Neither responded to requests for comment on the use of "forcible" rape in their amendment, or what the terminology might mean in regards to the House bill.
Most of the Republican leadership in the House has signed on as co-sponsors of H.R. 3, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The Virginia Republican is a vocal opponent of abortion who promised the thousands of opponents who gathered for the March For Life this month that "the tide has turned" on abortion since the GOP regained the House majority. His office also did not respond to a request for comment on the forcible rape language in the bill, despite his co-sponsorship.
Anti-abortion politicians aren't the only ones keeping quiet about H.R. 3 since the forcible rape language came to light. Calls to numerous anti-abortion groups, including National Right To Life, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Americans United For Life, the Susan B. Anthony List and the Abstinence Clearinghouse were either unreturned or met with "no comment."
The closest I got to a comment was from the Susan B. Anthony List, a strongly social conservative group last seen calling on the candidates for chair of the Republican National Committee to weigh in on life and the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. A spokesperson for SBA told me leaders of the group would be willing to get back to me "later this week," when he promised SBA leaders would have "much more informed comments on the topic."
For now, however, the spokesperson said SBA was yet another "no comment" in a long list of abortion foes uninterested in going on the record about the controversial language in a bill they've touted as the first step toward a Republican-led, pro-life House of Representatives.