The Non-Problem of False Rape Claims for Medicaid Abortions

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By now you’ve no doubt heard that one of the signature bills of the new Republican majority, H.R. 3 or “The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act,” seeks to make permanent bans on federal funding for almost all abortions by–among other things–limiting abortions for pregnancies caused by rape to those caused by “forcible rape.” No one actually knows what “forcible rape” is, as the bill’s authors don’t define it and the term isn’t found in the federal criminal code. But presumably it was considered a better phrase than the Whoopi Goldberg “rape-rape” standard.

I’d love to know how this issue came up during drafting of the legislation. One congressman pipes up: “And while we’re at it, you know what really burns me up? All of those women getting abortions paid for by Medicaid and saying they were raped. I bet they weren’t even really raped.”

Regardless, the bill got me wondering: How does a woman go about getting Medicaid funding for an abortion if she’s been raped (one of the three situations–along with a pregnancy that threatens the life of the mother or one caused by incest–for which the Hyde Amendment allows federal money to cover abortion services)? Is it just a matter of walking into an abortion clinic, declaring you’ve been raped, and getting a check from Medicaid four weeks later to cover the cost of the abortion?

Not exactly. Eligibility rules under the Hyde exceptions differ by state, but many states are like Tennessee, which requires a doctor to certify that “there is credible evidence to believe that the pregnancy is the result of rape” and to attach “documentation from a law enforcement agency indicating the patient has made a credible report as the victim of incest or rape” before Medicaid will consider issuing payment for an abortion procedure. As for the idea that there are all sorts of women filing false reports of rape, rape is consistently the most under-reported of all violent crimes. People aren’t lining up to claim sexual assaults that did happen, much less those that didn’t.

So that scourge of false rape reports–or even, let’s say, “non-forcible” rapes? It doesn’t exist. I couldn’t find numbers more recent than 2001, but these shocked me. In that year, the total number of abortions covered by Medicaid was 56. 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. Another 25 were covered by state Medicaid programs. Even assuming that every single one of those abortions was to end a pregnancy caused by rape, that’s 81 abortions paid for in part with taxpayer dollars. Nationwide. That’s roughly $32,000 total for first trimester procedures.

You can see why that number must be brought down by allowing only pregnancies caused by “forcible” rapes to be covered.

In case the “forcible” rape exception is still too broad, the authors of H.R. 3 also included a provision that essentially provides a loophole for any state that simply doesn’t want its funds governed by the Hyde Amendment exceptions. Section 308 of the bill reads:

Nothing in this chapter or any other Federal law shall be construed to require any State or local government to provide or pay for any abortion or any health benefits coverage that includes coverage of any abortion.

“Any abortion.” That means you, you wily rape victims and would-be mothers whose lives are threatened by your pregnancy. Let this serve as notice that the GOP majority doesn’t intend to let you get away with your little Medicaid scams anymore.

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