Report: Republicans Give Up On Redefining Rape

February 3, 2011 4:20 a.m.

After pressure from women’s groups, Democratic politicians and Jon Stewart, the authors of the controversial abortion bill in the House will drop language that appeared to exempt some rape victims from seeking federal help to pay for an abortion.

Politico reports this morning that Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the lead sponsor of the bill and chair of the House pro-life caucus, will remove the phrase “forcible rape” from the bill and replace it with the same wording used in the Hyde Amendment. That Amendment bans federal abortion coverage already, and proponents of the House law say their goal was to make Hyde — which has to be renewed every year — a permanent fixture of federal law.

“The word forcible will be replaced with the original language from the Hyde Amendment,” Jeff Sagnip, a spokesperson for Smith, told Politico. Smith’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TPM.

Though the House bill was never really likely to become law with a Democratically-controlled Senate and a committed pro-choice president in the White House, the language regarding forcible rape had created a firestorm among the pro-choice activists and politicians around the country. Even pro-life Democrats who had signed on to the bill as co-sponsors questioned the forcible rape wording, which experts said would likely change which abortions could be covered under the rape and incest exemptions in existing federal law.

Republicans and pro-life groups quickly clammed up about the bill, declining to comment on it to just about anyone — until today when the bill’s language changed.

The altered bill language will be undoubtedly be seen by some as a victory for pro-choice activists. But the bill still contains numerous provisions that appear to dramatically expand federal limits on abortion funding. The new version of the bill apparently retains the clause that limits the incest exemption to girls under the age of 18 and language that makes it tougher for women to obtain abortion coverage through their private insurers.

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Updates: Pro-choice members of Congress took a look at the revised language of the bill and told TPM they still hate it.

Smith’s office did not respond to numerous requests for comment from TPM, but his staff released a statement to other reporters making clear that the controversial incest language has also been dropped in favor of language copied from the Hyde Amendment.

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