Thursday, August 23, 2012

"Don't Redefine Rape" is Stupid.

One of the most ridiculous of the kneejerk reactions to Todd Akins' comments about rape and abortion has been the hysterical assertion that "Rape is rape!". Even otherwise intelligent people like Paul Ryan are saying it. Well, someone needs to deconstruct this inanity.

(For what it's worth, my own position on abortion manages to make everyone mad at me, but when it comes to government funding, I agree completely with the idea that it's wrong to force people to pay taxes that go to abortions, so the general idea of the law in question makes sense to me.)

I understand why Ryan's saying what he's saying; the hard-core pro-choice crowd has gone full-court press on the notion that in trying to legislate against spending our tax money on abortions other than in the case of rape, the pro-life side has tried to "redefine rape". Well, it sure seems like it's been defined to be a form of rape itself, based on the hysterical comments I keep reading and hearing.

But those who wish to participate in the political process need to be doing so as competent adults, and be willing to set aside childish emotional arguments to discuss the circumstances under which we're willing to use the power of the state, and incarcerate lawbreakers. There are clearly different kinds of "rape". Merriam-Webster has three nouns and a verb listed for the single word "rape", as well as compounds including other words. Let's take the one that seems to fit best:

1 : an act or instance of robbing or despoiling or carrying away a person by force
2 : unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent — compare sexual assault, statutory rape
3 : an outrageous violation
Compare to the Oxford dictionary definition:
[with object]

1 (especially of a man) force (another person) to have sexual intercourse with the offender against their will: the woman was raped at knifepoint

[no object]: he pleaded not guilty to burglary with intent to rape

2 spoil or destroy (a place): timber men doubt the government’s ability to ensure the forests are not raped
Notice the difference? The Oxford definition of the sex-crime sense of the unadorned verb "rape" is quite explicit about the element of force, while Merriam-Webster allows two different senses, and goes so far as to point out that the sense where consent cannot legally exist is "statutory rape". Sounds to me like some redefining's already been done.

And of course, with 50 different state (and DC/PR/VI/GU/AS) legislatures, at work, it's unlikely that the language defining "(forcible) rape" and "statutory rape" in any two of them are exactly identical. In recent years, we've added "acquaintence rape" and "date rape", as opposed to "stranger rape", and some states have seen fit to explicitly define a woman under the influence of certain drugs as no longer capable of legally forming consent. Under some legal codes, mentally-handicapped people, regardless of age, are considered incapable of consent. The definition of exactly who should be thus protected is, of course, another element to these laws.

These varying definitions of the capacity to form consent mean that two people who voluntarily engage in a sex act in one state may not be breaking any laws, but the same two people in another state might both be technically guilty of "statutorily raping" each other, if a judge rules they can be tried as adults. Even this depends on whether the legislators in any given state recognized how ridiculous it is to describe consensual acts between teens as them having raped each other.

So we have more than 50 different definitions of "forcible rape" and just as many definitions of "statutory rape" in the US alone. Congress couldn't write a law to restrict Federal funding of abortions to cases of rape while leaving the word undefined for the purposes of the law. Nor could it allow the word to be defined based on the state/territory jurisdiction in which the impregnation occurred, as that would apply non-uniform standards under which two women who became pregnant under identical situations, save for the location of the sexual congress, would be treated differently under the law. Any such law would immediately be challenged because it would pay for certain abortions in some states/territories but not others.

[Click on the title above, or date stamp below, to see the full article.]
If Congress is going to pass a law saying that we taxpayers aren't paying for abortions except in cases of rape, it must "(re)define rape" to do so. And every one of those state/territorial legislatures has defined, redefined, and re-redefined rape countless times over the decades.

It's a legislature's job to (re)define crimes.

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