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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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"The language of H.R. 3 was not intended to change existing law regarding taxpayer funding for abortion in cases of rape, nor is it expected that it would do so," Democratic congressman Dan Lipinski of Illinois said in a statement to Talking Points Memo on January 29. "Nonetheless, the legislative process will provide an opportunity to clarify this should such a need exist." 

One fact that bolsters the claim that the Hyde amendment excluded statutory rape (without force) is that Medicaid pays for a very small number of abortions. In 2001, "the total number of abortions covered by Medicaid was 56," reported Amy Sullivan of Time magazine. "That's all abortions for cases in which the mother's life was in danger, the pregnancy was a result of incest, or in the case of rape." If the Hyde amendment's definition of "rape" included consensual sex between a legal adult and a minor, it would seem reasonable to expect the number would be higher.

That may not be the strongest evidence, but it's better than no evidence. And not a single news organization has provided any evidence that the federal government has paid for Medicaid abortions in the case of statutory rape since 1993. In other words, the New York Times and other mainstream outlets have run with the "redefine rape" story without proof that the word "forcible" would have changed the definition of rape, for purposes of federal abortion-funding, in the slightest.

The whole debate over whether the word "forcible" would have altered the Hyde amendment became moot on February 3, 2011, when the word was dropped from the bill. That's right--it took less than a week from the January 28, 2011 Mother Jones story for Congress to change the bill. The Associated Press notes that the language was "eventually changed"--as if pro-lifers fought tooth-and-nail to get the word "forcible" in the bill. In fact they dropped it in less than a week after it became apparent that the word was redundant and simply gave pro-choice Democrats the opportunity to smear pro-lifers. Has there ever been so much furor over one word in a bill that was never voted on?

The Times is not alone in credulously reporting the "redefine rape" story. If you plug in the words “Paul Ryan” and “forcible rape” into Nexis, you will find over 300 stories since Saturday. “Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, cosponsored legislation with Akin that unsuccessfully sought to redefine 'forcible rape' in the federal code,” according to a report at National Journal by Major Garrett. Even ABC's Jake Tapper, who is usually the most even-handed prominent mainstream journalist, reported on Good Morning America: "Specifically, there was some legislation dealing with abortion that dealt with not, quote/unquote, 'legitimate rape,' as Congressman Akin described, but, quote/unquote, 'forcible rape.' And Congressman Paul Ryan was one of the 227 co-sponsors of that legislation, so they'll try to tie him."

It's fine for the media to report on the attacks that Democrats or Republicans plan to launch against their opponents, but it is also the job of journalists to explain that attacks are untrue if they are untrue.

The basic facts of the "redefine rape" story are as follows: Ryan cosponsored a bill to ban federal-funding of abortions, except in the case of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother was endangered. For about six days, there was a debate about whether or not the bill would have inadvertently changed the law regarding taxpayer-funding of abortion in the case of statutory rape. We still don't know for sure whether the federal government funds abortion in the case of statutory rape. The original version of the bill was quickly changed to mirror the precise language of the Hyde amendment. The No Taxpayer-Funding for Abortion Act, which had 11 Democratic cosponsors, passed the House with 251 votes. 

That might not make for a gripping story. But it's the truth.

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