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A Bad Day for Sexual Assault Victims in Congress

Yesterday, two different Congressional committees voted against protections for sexual assault victims:

  • The House Judiciary Committee, while considering a 20 week abortion ban, voted AGAINST including an exception for victims of rape and incest. During the Committee meeting, Representative Trent Franks joined the long list of abortion opponents who have claimed that the chance of “rape resulting in pregnancy is very low.”
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee, in considering a set of new protections for victims of sexual assault, voted AGAINST a provision to give the responsibility for addressing these crimes to independent prosecutors and away from the chain of command. As you may recall, there have been several very public stories in the last few months of commanders failing to pursue claims of sexual assault and overturning sexual assault convictions. And, even reports that the officers charged with enforcing these laws accused of sexual assault themselves.

It is important to note that these two votes took place in very different contexts – the House vote took place during consideration of a bill designed to limit women’s rights while the Senate vote took place during consideration of a bill that will otherwise strengthen the military’s prevention of and response to sexual assault.

That being said, both of these actions have something very fundamental in common. In both cases, the Members of Congress who voted for these provisions could not move past their long-standing way of looking at things in order to really understand the reality of what is happening to women.

In the House Judiciary Committee, Trent Franks relied on the old and disproved idea that women rarely get pregnant from rape. That is not the reality. Not only is it false, but it really is beside the point. If even one woman who has been raped is forced to carry a pregnancy she does not want, that is wrong.

In the Senate Armed Services Committee, a very thoughtful debate took place about the best way to approach the troubling issue of sexual assault in the military. The Senators who voted against the amendment support pushing the chain of command to do a better job in dealing with sexual assault. Again, this ignores reality. For over two decades (at least since the Tailhook scandal in 1991), people outside of the military have been demanding that the chain of command’s response to these crimes improve. It never has. New approaches are needed – and the best idea is to give authority to the independent prosecutors.

PS: Just so the states don’t feel left out, I should note that this wasn’t just a bad day in Congress – did you know that a bill just passed by the Iowa legislature would allow Governor Terry Branstad to personally review each individual case of a woman applying for Medicaid to receive coverage for an abortion in cases of rape, incest, severe fetal anomalies and life? Talk about intimidating women and an unprecedented political intrusion into medical privacy!

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