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#DearJohn: For When Boehner Decides Your Rape Just Wasn’t Enough

Well, hey there! What a beautiful Saturday afternoon it is! The sun is shining, the air is clear, the slush on the sidewalk is a sparkling shade of Pollution Beige, and OH LORD NO WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS:

Rape is only really rape if it involves force. So says the new House Republican majority as it now moves to change abortion law.

For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. (Another exemption covers pregnancies that could endanger the life of the woman.) But the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” a bill with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has dubbed a top priority in the new Congress, contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to limit drastically the definition of rape and incest in these cases.

Yep, you got that right! The job-focused, tax-focused economy-building new Congress is getting started right away, with a bill to… deny health coverage to rape survivors.

Oh, but, you know, that only applies the rape survivors who just don’t count. Meaning the majority of rape survivors. Under this new bill, the only rape survivors who would be able to receive funding would be those who were able to prove that their rapes involved “force.” If your rapist drugged you, intoxicated you, or raped you while you were unconscious, you don’t get coverage. If your rapist used coercion, you don’t get coverage. If this is a case of statutory rape — that is, if you are a thirteen-year-old child, raped by someone outside of your family — you don’t get coverage. If you’re an incest survivor over the age of eighteen — if, say, years of abuse only culminated in a pregnancy after your nineteenth birthday — you just don’t get coverage. And if you live in a state that doesn’t distinguish “forcible rape” from “rape,” you might not qualify, meaning that no matter what the circumstances of your assault were, well, sorry: You might not get coverage. 

That’s a lot of survivors, suddenly deprived of coverage. And no, it’s not a coincidence that rape involving “force” — and remember that proving “force” often means proving an overwhelming and potentially deadly amount of violence; other sorts of force often get swept under the rug — is less common than other methods. This bill would deny coverage to most survivors. That’s what it’s about. That’s what it’s intended to do.

There are already restrictions on the use of “taxpayer funds” to pay for abortion: The Hyde Amendment limits them. The Stupak-Pitts Amendment limits them. But both the Hyde Amendment (in its current, post-1977 form) and the Stupak-Pitts Amendment make exceptions for survivors of rape and incest. The federal funds provided through Medicaid cannot be used cover abortion, except in the cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in danger. The fact is, about half a million women who have abortions each year qualify for Medicaid. And Medicaid only covers around 80 or 90 abortions per year. Of those women, many are probably getting the funding because their pregnancy endangers their lives, not because they’re rape survivors: This big, bold, vital bill is aimed at ripping coverage away from maybe, GENEROUSLY, forty-five people a year. Heck, why not go for broke and say sixty people? Or even seventy-five! WHOA! Staggering numbers, that Boehner and the GOP are targeting here. Clearly, this is a vital target.

But it’s the “except” they have a problem with: That “except” bothers them. The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act wants to take that one “except” off the table. It thinks all that compassion we have for rape and incest survivors is a silly idea. Because, you know. What if their rapes really weren’t that bad?

They’re coming for the abortion funding, and the first thing they’re doing is breaking the long-held taboo that says, whatever else you do, don’t come after the rape survivors, they’ve been through enough. According to this bill, you’ve only been through enough if the GOP decides you’ve been through enough. Otherwise, no matter how traumatic your rape was, or how desperately you want or need control of your life and body, you’re fair game. Having had your right to consent to sex violently ripped away, your right to consent to pregnancy and childbirth can now be ripped away as well. 

And yes, of course: If you care at all about the right to choose, the bill is already reprehensible, just on its face. It deprives low-income women of much-needed financial aid for their abortions, when their chances of getting it are already vanishingly slim. It targets the most vulnerable people in our society, and deprives them of much-needed control over their family planning, their lives, and their finances, which they need to survive and keep afloat. Oh, and bonus for the rest of us: Even if you have insurance, this bill might make it impossible for your insurance to cover an abortion. It’s just not okay, any way you look at it.

But this, the part where we decide whose rapes matter and whose rapes don’t, and seek to pass into law a radical redefinition of rape that just so happens to erase the vast majority of rape survivors, is horrifying. Instead of maintaining that rape is always rape, that there’s no such thing as a “minor” or “excusable” rape, the GOP is putting forth a bill that says some rapes are so very minor and excusable as not to warrant consideration. Making this attitude law — any law, anywhere — sets a truly terrifying precedent. It’s unconscionable.

And you know what we like to do when things get unconscionable.

That’s right, kids: It’s time to make the Internet a big, scary problem for some sexists, once again. Our favorite teary-eyed pun-inducing anti-choice lawmaker, John “[BOEHNERS]” Boehner, has dubbed this bill a “top priority” for the new Congress. Which means our top priority is telling him, and all of our representatives, that he’s wrong. Where once there was #MooreandMe, now there is only… #DearJohn.

I’ve been working with fellow feminist writers, activists, organizers, and organizations since last night to get this thing started. The Tweets are already rolling. But you, dear lovely all of you: What could we possibly achieve, without you? Not much, is the answer!

So here’s what is up. Right now, we’re Tweeting at the Boehner — oh, look! Here he is — and at all of our representatives, and we’re going to keep Tweeting, to tell them that this bill is an attack on the rights of survivors everywhere, and that it will not stand. We’re Tweeting to say that all rape is rape. We’re Tweeting to tell them the many ways that this leaves women open to attack and reproductive coercion.  We’re Tweeting to tell them that the exemption for cases of rape and incest must stand, and that it must apply in all cases. We’re Tweeting to tell them that we will not support them if they back it, we will not support them if they “compromise” on “just this one thing” — the rights and dignity of rape survivors are never to be compromised, under any circumstances — and they will not be able to push this redefinition of rape forward. We’re the American people; we got them the jobs they have, and if we are unsatisfied with their performance? We can get them oh, so very, very fired.

Don’t know who your representative is? Find them here, along with ways to contact them. Don’t know how to find your representative on Twitter? Use the Google! We’ll be planning other ways to contact these representatives, and to co-ordinate that action: Stay tuned, as always, for exciting action alerts. And, last but not least: Don’t know why getting involved matters? Try this on for size:

They told us we didn’t count. Imagine their surprise when we all speak up, all at once, to tell them that we do.


  1. Claire Lee wrote:

    How to do this: I scrolled down on Twitter until I found his post re the bill against using taxpayer money for abortion. Then I hit reply and gave my 2 cents worth.

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 6:30 am | Permalink
  2. Meg Thornton wrote:

    I’m furious enough at this bill, but to discover they’ve apparently decided “women of limited mental capacity” cannot be eligible for an abortion following a rape, ever, strikes right at the point where I start wanting to rend and tear. Congratulations, guys, you’ve just effectively legalised institutional rape. Ladies, please avoid getting head injuries, or falling into comas, since if you wind up with “reduced mental capacity”, you can apparently be raped with impunity.

    Rape is forcing sexual activity on a person without their consent (preferably their enthusiastic and informed consent). I do not even want to try to figure out how they managed to parlay a situation where consent is either impossible (due to lack of consciousness) or uninformed (due to lack of comprehension) is somehow not going to result in rape. Or why they think a woman who is comatose, or who has an intellectual or social age of six is capable of being an adequate mother to a new baby.

    The US no longer fits on the list of civilised nations.

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 6:37 am | Permalink
  3. alexI wrote:

    Just remembering how many new tweeters joined for #mooreandme, here is a beautiful guide to how twitter works:

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink
  4. Jenn wrote:

    Let’s clarify something here. The word “force” in the legal sense does not mean force in the typical way. “Non-forcible Rape” is rape where the party legally considered raped was a willing participant, but legally unable to give consent. This would be a situations like statutory and incest. All other types of rape are actually “forcible rape” (and if your police dept or campus officers try to code it other wise you find a damn lawyer).

    Now, the bill in question actually caveats with an exception for minors and victims of incest thereby re-including statutory and incest.

    So basically this clause is pointless for all persons on either side of the fence.

    Those are the grounds by which you have it stricken from a republican bill. If they gave a shit about the women in the equation then the bill wouldn’t have been written in the first place.

    People like those behind this bill aren’t going to suddenly wake up and sympathize with rape victims. We need to find alternative tactics in *addition* to trying to give abortion a face.

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink
  5. Liz wrote:

    How the heck is Sharia law being promoted by Republicans? I didn’t vote GOP to let Islam tell me how to live.

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 9:11 am | Permalink
  6. Rachel wrote:

    Liz @ 55: I hope you’re joking, but on the off chance that you’re not, what the fuck? This is about misogyny, not religion.

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  7. gogo wrote:


    This is a serious request because I am so out of it. Can you please do a tutorial post about how to start doing the twitter?

    I tried to get started during the moore&me thing & was unsuccessful. I have basic dopey questions. Does the twitter work through people’s phones or computers or both? Is it like sending a text? I have a super basic cell phone and I am not sure how the twitter will work with what I have.


    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink
  8. Garland wrote:

    @Gogo Twitter works on cell phones and your computer at home. You do not need the latest Shiny! Fast! Cellputer to tweet.

    When you send a tweet, it goes out to everyone who decides to follow you, but other people can see your tweets if they search for your name (mine is @garlandgrey, for instance, all twitter usernames start with @)

    By including “#DearJohn” anywhere in your message, your tweet will be included in the list of tweets everyone sees when they search #DearJohn. I will be on throughout the day and will help as many people I can get on Twitter and join the protest. At some point I’ll find a great Twitter Tutorial video for getting an account set up and post it, along with instructions. The “Mom this is how Twitter works” link someone posted is a good start, because I don’t care for the assumption that older ladies that raised children to adulthood can’t figure out how Twitter works, but also my own Mother (who taught herself computer programming in her 30’s while working fulltime and raising two kids) would probably have some words for me if I endorsed it.

    Most of those words would probably be about how much better she is at the Internet than me.

    Twitter isn’t the easiest thing to understand at first, but your voice needs to be heard. Feel free to post more questions in the comments, or tweet me directly by starting your message with “@garlandgrey.” If anyone else would like to help new users get started, we’d be ever grateful.


    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 11:38 am | Permalink
  9. Agnes wrote:

    I just called my congressman to say that I want him to vote against this act. Whooo!

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink
  10. a.b. wrote:

    And… blog posted. If I lose any readers writing about this, good riddance. How do these people sleep at night?

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  11. Lu wrote:

    I’ve never tweeted anything but kooky private messages for my sister (my only follower) before, but I just did it for this. I guess if I attract hostile attention because of the hashtag, I’ll know why (and be proud)!

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Permalink
  12. Toby wrote:

    Sady, where are you getting that 80-90 abortions per year covered under Medicaid number? I can’t find it in the article you linked nor in the one promising looking source from that page, and I’d like to be able to source it directly in arguments.

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Permalink
  13. gogo wrote:

    Thanks GG! I have the twitter for mom site open. I will figure this out, by gum! (I have never birthed a child but I am the target for this tutorial on account of I have just REFUSED to join. Same goes for the facebook.)

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Permalink
  14. Magdalene wrote:

    Thank you Sady and Seth and everyone involved!

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Permalink
  15. gogo wrote:

    “twitter is over capacity”

    No success for me thus far.

    I hope it’s cause so many people are messaging regarding this heinous bill.

    Power to the people, no delay!

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Permalink
  16. Alexis wrote:

    Thanks for this – it provided context for what is a horrific piece of potential legislation, and you articulated a lot of the anger and frustration I share but can’t express properly.

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Permalink
  17. boats and birds wrote:

    i’ve been posting this all over facebook because i don’t have a twitter, but i second gogo about needing tutorial. and garland, i love what you said about assuming only moms suck at teh internetz… i’m 22, and can’t figure much of this ish out.

    let the shitstorm of righteous indignation commenceth!

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 2:36 am | Permalink
  18. Daphne B wrote:

    Source for the approx. 90 federally funded abortions per year: , page 27.

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 6:50 am | Permalink
  19. Krystyn wrote:

    Use this link to send a letter to your local rep and tell them to vote NO on this bill!

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink
  20. This issue is something that is extremely important to our ongoing struggle for women’s rights. At EMILY’s List, we know that over the past 26 years, our members have fought for the freedoms my generation enjoys today by helping to elect pro-choice Democratic women. We’re asking the GOP: what are your priorities? You spoke of an economic mandate, but your actions show a dedication to rolling back the rights of women.

    Join EMILY’s List in sending this message to Speaker Boehner: we will not stand for these attacks on women’s rights.

    Visit today to join us.

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink
  21. Doctress Julia wrote:

    Well. According to this, neither one of my rapes was rape.

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Permalink
  22. Heather Downs wrote:

    go get ’em! Good luck from UK Feminista (Kent)

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink
  23. Leslie Lanning wrote:

    This is an outrage. What has to happen for these men to understand what rape truly is. Do they have to know and love a rape victim for them to finally understand? Their wife, their child? God forbid.

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Permalink
  24. Helen Pigg wrote:

    Shame on Boehner. He has no feeling for a poor 13 year-old-girl, who has no way of protecting herself. For the sake of our country’s poor, he SHOULD GIVE UP HIS JOB! We’d be better off without him!

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Permalink
  25. Thanks for putting this important issue right in that Monster’s face!
    It is completely unconscionable for this legislation to be introduced in the first place.
    Down with Boehner, he needs to resign and they go home and cry to his mommie!

    Thursday, February 3, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  26. Ann Marwick wrote:

    John needs to read “Lucky” Alice Sebold’s memoir of her rape when she was a young student. It is the most horrendous stories I have ever read, really outlining the brutality of what rape is and what it does to a woman. John Boehner should not be in the business of writing bills that have anything to do with females. What does he know and how can he know? why have so many legislators signed on???

    Thursday, February 3, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Permalink
  27. Alisha Ritt wrote:

    You can bet that women united will be an unstoppable force for good!

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink