This morning, I sent an email to the letter-to-the-editor email address of the Burlington County Times. It's the first time I've done so, and I'm afraid I was rather long, so I doubt it'll get published. (And if it is, I'm afraid of how it'll get edited down) I may clean it up, reworded slightly, and send it to my representative, for all the good it'll do.
It's about HR3, so I suppose I should put a bit of a trigger warning on the letter text for discussion of a bill that discusses rape.
I live in Burlington City.
Those of you familiar with the political map of New Jersey will know this puts me in the NJ-04 congressional district, which Chris Smith has represented for thirty years.
I am used to disagreeing with my representative - we do, after all, have differing political leanings, especially on the charged issue of abortion. However, I had thought - especially after the 2008 election - that though we had strong disagreements on this issue, Smith's opposition to legal abortion stemmed not from a general anti-woman sentiment, but from that rarest of political creatures: a genuine moral objection. After all, Smith has been a long-time supporter of the Violence Against Women Act, and broke with the vast majority of his party by voting for the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act every time it came up. I still didn't agree with Rep. Smith, but he had built up enough good will to earn my grudging acceptance.
Chris Smith has, in the few short weeks since this congressional term began, thrown all that good will away by spearheading the bill currently known as HR3. Under the guise of concern that taxpayer money might someday fund something some find morally objectionable, his bill would prohibit any tax-advantaged medical insurance from covering abortion. This includes virtually all private, employer-sponsored insurance, stripping abortion coverage from millions of middle-class Americans. Those covered by Medicaid were already unable to obtain abortions covered by the program by a provision renewed every year known as the Hyde Amendment, which HR3 would also make permanent.
As bad as this is, Chris Smith has inserted language into HR3 to make it even worse. Traditionally, restrictions such as the Hyde Amendment include exemptions allowing for abortions where necessary to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest. Chris Smith, though, has written into HR3 the idea that only "forcible" rape would trigger an exemption. Statutory rape, date rape, rape by drugs, by alcohol, when the rapist used threats against children or when the victim was unconscious - all of these, in Smith's view, do not count.
Although the Republican party as a whole deserves some blame for going along with this bill, the bill itself is Smith's project and exists in its current form largely thanks to his leadership. Chris Smith has explicitly asked for a world that legally divides rape victims into those who can prove to the government that their rape involved enough physical force and those whose rapes don't count. He has asked for a world in which abortion is effectively restricted to those women who can pay the full expense out of pocket.
Thankfully, Smith's bill is likely to get nowhere near being the law of the land, and his promotion of it is therefore largely symbolic. However, I hope that in 2012 my fellow constituents of NJ-04 will remember when in the voting booth the kind of world Chris Smith evidently believes in.