WASHINGTON – Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) on Monday tore into House Republicans for proposing legislation that would limit access to abortion coverage for some rape victims.
The Florida Democrat, a rising star in her party and vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, is a leading voice on women's issues. And she didn't mince her words in an interview with Raw Story, fiercely denouncing GOP colleagues over H.R. 3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act."
"It is absolutely outrageous," Wasserman Schultz said in an exclusive interview late Monday afternoon. "I consider the proposal of this bill a violent act against women."
The broad anti-abortion measure would restrict federally-assisted abortion coverage to cases of "forcible rape," excluding in that definition instances where women are drugged and raped, where women say "no" but do not physically fight off the perpetrator, and various cases of date rape. It also excludes instances of statutory rape in which minors are impregnated by adults. The victim in all cases would be denied abortion coverage under Medicaid and forbidden from seeking health care tax benefits.
Introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the bill boasts 173 mainly Republican co-sponsors and has been designated a top priority by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
"It really is -- to suggest that there is some kind of rape that would be okay to force a woman to carry the resulting pregnancy to term, and abandon the principle that has been long held, an exception that has been settled for 30 years, is to me a violent act against women in and of itself," Wasserman Schultz said.
"Rape is when a woman is forced to have sex against her will, and that is whether she is conscious, unconscious, mentally stable, not mentally stable," the four-term congresswoman added.
The measure would also raise costs for businesses who want to offer employees insurance plans with abortion coverage, by eliminating health care tax deductions that have long been federal law.
Spokespersons for Boehner and Smith did not return requests for comment.
Dead on arrival in the Senate?
Wasserman Schultz dismissed the effort as a nonstarter in the Democratic-led Senate and a guaranteed veto by President Barack Obama, but conceded that it may pass the GOP-controlled House. She called it "yet another example" of how the "extreme right-wing fringe of Republican Party has complete control over their agenda."
Democrats have long held a strong voter advantage nationally among women -- President Obama won the female vote by 13 points. But exit polls from the November midterm elections saw that margin narrow considerably, with women evenly split between the two parties in House races.
"To have H.R. 3, the Republicans' third most important priority, say that rape cannot be an exception to federal funding for abortion...sends an incredibly strong message to women," Wasserman Schultz said, describing it as the GOP's "opening curtain" on women's issues.
The pro-abortion-rights group NARAL lashed out at the measure's backers, calling it "unbelievably cruel and heartless toward survivors of rape and incest."
"We are seeing more and more anti-choice lawmakers who are willing to deny survivors of rape and incest access to abortion care," NARAL president Nancy Keenan told Raw Story. "If they can't block access altogether, they will work around the edges. Rep. Smith's 'Stupak on Steroids' bill is an example of this piecemeal strategy because it seeks to make the narrow exceptions for public funding of abortion care for rape and incest survivors even more restrictive."
Wasserman Schultz also said the bill contradicted the GOP's core political philosophy.
"Even though Republicans say they want government out of our lives, this is the most intrusive governmental act that we've probably seen to date in the personal lives of women," she said.