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Bill to Redefine Rape a Congressional "Bait and Switch?"

February 2, 2011

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Women's rights organizations are opposing one of the very first bills introduced in the new Congress. It would require any rape to be a "forcible rape" in order to qualify for federal funding for an abortion if a pregnancy results. Current law provides federal funding for abortions for women on Medicaid in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman.

Susan Yolen, vice president of New Haven-based Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, explains what the new definition would mean.

"So that anyone who was raped unknowingly, someone who is mentally ill, or actually was not aware and did not fight verbally or physically against their attacker, might not actually even qualify for that funding."

Yolen explains that current law already excludes all federal employees, women living on Indian reservations, and those in the military or in federal prisons from accessing federal abortion funding. She also notes that Connecticut is one of the few remaining states that continues to help cover the state portion of Medicaid funding for abortion.

Yolen points out that federal health care reform would make it even harder to get abortion coverage.

"The Affordable Care Act made sure that anyone seeking abortion care would have a very difficult time accessing it and paying for it; in fact, would have to proactively choose to buy coverage, ahead of time."

Further, however, Yolen says new members of Congress campaigned on fixing the economy, growing jobs and reducing the deficit; abortion was barely mentioned. She calls the introduction of House Bill 3 a "bait and switch" tactic.

"I mean, these folks were elected to do something very different than to continue to demonize and limit abortion."

The bill has been introduced into the Republican-controlled House, where Yolen says a majority of members are anti-abortion, but she believes such a bill would likely activate President Obama's veto pen if it should reach his desk. Abortion opponents, such as Right to Life, strongly support the legislation.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT