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Fact-checking the fact-checkers: Did an abortion defunding bill try ‘to redefine rape’?

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

February 9, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) In a fact-check published by PolitiFact Colorado on Tuesday, Denver7's Alan Gathright gave a "Mostly True" to a claim by EMILY's List that Rep. Mike Coffman, R-CO, "co-sponsored a bill to redefine rape."

While Gathright told LifeSiteNews in a phone call that he stood by his reporting and conclusions, the facts of the bill in question and EMILY's List's representation of such make it clear that Gathright should change his ruling to "False."

What's the bill in question?

In 2011, Coffman backed the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," which would enact a permanent ban on nearly all federal funding for abortions, such as what is already banned by the Hyde Amendment and an additional ban on the abortion funding in the Affordable Care Act.

The bill was immediately attacked by the abortion industry for many of its characteristics, including the one that EMILY's List recently targeted – the exception for "forcible rape," as opposed to all circumstances in which a child is conceived through rape (such as statutory rape).

After an outcry fomented by the abortion industry, the rape exception was widened – something Coffman also supported, in the form of a vote on the House floor.

In creating his conclusion of "Mostly True," Gathright concluded that "the record shows Coffman did co-sponsor the bill to redefine a ban on federal funding for abortions to exempt 'forcible rape.' Yet he later voted on the floor for an amended version that had removed the 'forcible' modifier from the bill."

But precision in language matters

Gathright's unintentional tag-team with EMILY's List has at least two major flaws.

First, EMILY's List is not saying Coffman "co-sponsored a bill that would redefine rape," or that he "co-sponsored a bill that redefines rape" (emphasis added). Instead, the group strongly infers that the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" is intended to "redefine rape" by its use of "to" instead of "that would" or "that redefines."

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The rape component was an exception made to the point of the bill, which was (and is still today, in its newest from, which likewise passed the House) to eliminate nearly all federal funding of abortion.

Accuracy in general also matters

But even if EMILY's List had used precise language, its main claim would still be false. The group claims that the bill would "redefine rape," and since we're talking about what Coffman "co-sponsored," – namely, "a bill" – the clear implication is that Coffman wants to "redefine rape" in the legal sense of the term.

However, nowhere does the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" change the legal definition of anything. It simply looks at changing what federal funding is provided for abortions, full stop.

Put another way – because the bill discusses rape only in the context of funding, there is no effort to change anything else in federal, state, or local laws, whether civil or criminal. The effort is to decide what abortions are pro-actively funded by the federal government.

Which definition of rape?

In his piece, Gathright wrote, "Critics said the 'forcible rape' language could rule out other forms of sexual assault that are considered rape, including statutory rape, attacks where women are drugged or threatened, and date rapes."

Likewise, he quoted Coffman's Democratic opponent, Morgan Carroll, who said, "Rape is about the lack of consent – not the degree of force – and this definition takes us backwards."

However, which "definition" of rape are we talking about? Generally speaking, there are at least two broad definitions of rape – sexual intercourse between two people when one party is unwilling and sexual intercourse between a legal adult and a legal minor (which can be consensual).

I'm no lawyer, but "forcible" clearly addresses the Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton circumstances of sexual intercourse – even while it protects unborn children from "morning-after" claims of rape that are sometimes proven false, such as when both parties are drinking, etc. 

Another issue

In his piece, Gathright said the bill Coffman originally backed "attempted to redefine a ban on federal funding for abortions to exempt 'forcible rape' – and not rape in broader terms."

However, there is no "ban on federal funding for abortions." Instead, there is an annually approved ban on funding except in the cases of rape, incest, and life of the mother – and even that ban is dodged by components of the Affordable Care Act.

Gathright's error is common in the mainstream media, even among purported fact-checkers

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