Sean Hannity continued his attempts to downplay the GOP's record of promoting legislation that hurts women by accusing Democrats of "playing word games" when bringing up an abandoned Republican effort to blur the definition of rape in federal anti-abortion legislation.
In January 2011, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced a bill to permanently ban federal funding of abortion, designated H.R. 3. Under the Hyde Amendment, which has been renewed periodically since 1976, federal funding for abortions is prohibited with exceptions for rape, incest, and saving the life of a pregnant woman. But in the original language of H.R. 3, the exception for rape was changed to "forcible" rape. Mother Jones reported that the change "would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible."
The "forcible rape" language in the bill drew condemnation from women's rights groups. Steph Sterling of the National Women's Law Center said that the bill "takes us back to a time when just saying 'no' wasn't enough to qualify for rape." NARAL Pro-Choice America policy director Donna Crane said that the change is "unbelievably cruel and heartless," and National Organization for Women president Terry O'Neill said that the bill "takes us right back to the 1950s, when women had to prove they were physically assaulted." EMILY's List stated:
"The GOP is pushing their anti-woman agenda yet again, and this time they've sunk to new lows: they actually want to redefine rape, incest, and the health of a mother. In an outrageous and dangerous new bill supported by John Boehner, the GOP is going after some of the most vulnerable women at the worst time of their lives -- after they've been raped.
"Can you imagine telling a victim of date rape -- or another form of sexual assault -- that they don't just count as rape survivors because it wasn't so-called "forcible rape"? Well, with this HR3 bill, that's exactly what John Boehner and the GOP wants to do: tell these women that they're not victims of a crime or deserve the resources they need to deal with their trauma.
But according to Hannity, highlighting this is somehow another distortion of the Republican record. After Fox News contributor Christopher Hahn brought up the original language of H.R. 3, Hannity defended the language, first demanding that Hahn "explain what non-forcible rape is," and repeatedly questioning whether statutory rape is "forced." Watch:
Hannity ultimately dismissed the concerns over the GOP's attempt to redefine rape as "playing word games." But language matters, especially in our nation's laws. In its reporting on H.R. 3, Mother Jones noted the problems with using such a term:
Laurie Levenson, a former assistant US attorney and expert on criminal law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, notes that the new bill's authors are "using language that's not particularly clear, and some people are going to lose protection." Other types of rapes that would no longer be covered by the exemption include rapes in which the woman was drugged or given excessive amounts of alcohol, rapes of women with limited mental capacity, and many date rapes. "There are a lot of aspects of rape that are not included," Levenson says.
The bill hasn't been carefully constructed, Levenson notes. The term "forcible rape" is not defined in the federal criminal code, and the bill's authors don't offer their own definition. In some states, there is no legal definition of "forcible rape," making it unclear whether any abortions would be covered by the rape exemption in those jurisdictions.