August 23, 2012 — Rep. Todd Akin's recent use of the term "legitimate rape" is refocusing attention on attempts to enshrine various definitions of rape in health-related legislation, the Wall Street Journal reports (Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 8/22).
During a television interview on Sunday, Akin was asked whether he supports abortion in cases of rape. "It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare," Akin said about pregnancies resulting from rape. He added, "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways of trying to shut that whole thing down" (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/21).
On Monday, Akin said he had meant to say "forcible rape." The next day, he said he was referring to "people who use false claims."
Use in Legislation, Policy
Over the past few years, antiabortion-rights lawmakers have attempted use the term "forcible rape" in various bills, according to the Journal (Wall Street Journal, 8/22). Notably, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (HR 3) introduced last year by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) would have narrowed the rape exception for federal abortion coverage to cases of "forcible rape" (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/3/2011).
Supporters of the bill claimed the term was needed to close a "loophole" they said allows teens to obtain federal funding for abortion care in cases of consensual sex that qualifies as statutory rape. Abortion-rights supporters said the term was an attempt to exclude statutory rape and rape by acquaintances from the definition of rape (Tysver, Omaha World-Herald, 8/23).
According to the Journal, FBI has used the term "forcible rape" in crime statistic for decades, which excluded cases when physical violence was not used to coerce a victim. FBI this year announced it will use only the term "rape" beginning in January 2013 and the Department of Justice will begin using a definition that will apply to all sexual acts without consent (Wall Street Journal, 8/22). Meanwhile, NBC News reports that "forcible rape" is commonly used by prosecutors to distinguish it from "statutory rape" in court cases (O'Donnell, NBC News, 8/22).
Debate Puts Spotlight on Rep. Ryan
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) -- running mate to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney--is among the lawmakers in the spotlight for support of legislation that uses the term "forcible rape." Ryan was among the 227 co-sponsors of HR 3 last year (Omaha World-Herald, 8/23).
Asked to define the term in an interview on Tuesday, Ryan said, "Rape is rape period, end of story" (Hook, "Washington Wire," Wall Street Journal, 8/22).
Ryan also has supported other measures that used the term, such as a 2009 amendment that would have attempted to allow health plans to refuse to provide abortion coverage with several exceptions, including in cases of "forcible rape" (NBC News, 8/23).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership