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NYTimes Falsely Reports Ryan Tried to 'Restrict the Definition of Rape'

5:29 PM, Aug 23, 2012 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Jonathan Weisman and Michael Shear of the New York Times report today that Paul Ryan "co-sponsored a bill with Mr. Akin that aimed to restrict the definition of rape."

New York Times

This claim, which has been pushed by the Democratic National Committee and has popped up in numerous mainstream publications, is false. It doesn't seem like this story is going to die anytime soon, so let's take a close look at the many reasons it is untrue.

First, the New York Times and many other news outlets fail to provide very basic context about the bill Ryan cosponsored. Writing that Ryan cosponsored a bill that "aimed to restrict the definition of rape" leaves readers with the impression that Ryan cosponsored a bill primarily aimed at changing the definition of rape. Did the bill try to reduce the punishment for rapists? Did it exclude "date-rape" from the definition of rape? The Times leaves readers wondering.

In fact, the bill had nothing to do with altering the criminal code. It dealt only with the issue of prohibiting the use of federal tax dollars to pay for abortions. From 1981 to 1993, the Hyde amendment only allowed federal funding of abortions for Medicaid recipients when the mother's life was endangered. In 1993, the Hyde amendment was modified to allow federal tax dollars to pay for abortions for Medicaid recipients whose pregnancies were the result of rape or incest. (If you want a detailed history of Hyde amendment exceptions, read this 2008 HHS report.

Now that we've placed the issue in proper context, let's move on to the claim that the bill Ryan cosponsored changed the definition of rape vis-a-vis federal funding of abortion.

In January of 2011, the No Taxpayer-Funding for Abortion Act was introduced in the House of Representatives as a catch-all measure to prohibit federal funding of abortions with a few exceptions. On January 28, 2011, Nick Baumann of Mother Jones was the first to report that the phrase "forcible rape" would cause a drastic change in law. "Drugged, raped, and pregnant? Too bad," read the sub-headline of Baumann's story. "Republicans are pushing to limit rape and incest cases eligible for government abortion funding."

Baumann wrote that the “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.”

These claims were blatantly untrue. The Department of Justice and FBI have a well-established definition of "forcible rape" that covers the "types of rapes" to which Baumann refers. The FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook explicitly states that the use of "date-rape" drugs fall under the definition of "forcible rape" (emphasis added): 

The following scenarios illustrate incidents known to law enforcement that reporting agencies must classify as Attempts to Commit Forcible Rape (2b):

4. A man attacked a woman on the street, knocked her down, and attempted to rape her.  A pedestrian frightened the man away before he could complete the attack.

5. At a local bar, a man slipped gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), a date rape drug, into a woman’s drink.  However, the man was unable to lure the woman away from her friends. Investigators concluded that the man intended to have intercourse with the woman and arrested him.

The original intent of using the word "forcible" in this bill was to prohibit taxpayer-funding of abortion in cases of statutory rape without force--i.e. when a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old have consensual sex. The law already makes a clear distinction between forcible rape and statutory rape, so it is inaccurate to say that the bill would "restrict" or "redefine" the definition of rape. Supporters of the bill, such as the National Right to Life Committee and Democratic congressman Dan Lipinski (who was an original cosponsor), have said that the longstanding interpretation of the Hyde amendment had always excluded "statutory rape." They were simply trying to codify this interpretation, not change the amendment. 

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