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Turning the Clock Way Back

Even as Republicans fulminate about the president's alleged lack of focus on the country's fiscal condition (not, to be sure, its economic condition, which has largely dropped off the GOP's radar screen), the pent-up social policy demands of the party's dominant conservative wing can no longer be repressed. A major case in point is the drive to further restrict government funding for abortions, a matter than most of us thought had been resolved in the right-to-life movement's favor a long time ago. But no, the Hyde Amendment's not enough, explains Mother Jones' Nick Baumann:

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.

With this legislation, which was introduced last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to "forcible rape." This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible. For example: If a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion.

You may recall that during the debate over health reform last year, Republicans tried to make a case that "ObamaCare" would somehow increase government coverage of abortion services, even as Democrats again and again made concessions to restrict that possibility. It's increasingly obvious, though, that it's not the statuo quo on abortion that conservatives are defending; instead they are pursuing a long-delayed opportunity to unsettle old compromises now that the midterm elections of 2010 have given them a supposed mandate:

There used to be a quasi-truce between the pro- and anti-choice forces on the issue of federal funding for abortion. Since 1976, federal law has prohibited the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest, and when the pregnancy endangers the life of the woman. But since last year, the anti-abortion side has become far more aggressive in challenging this compromise. They have been pushing to outlaw tax deductions for insurance plans that cover abortion, even if the abortion coverage is never used. The Smith bill represents a frontal attack on these long-standing exceptions.

The Senate won't let this happen, but it's a good example of an area where claims of Democratic "extremism" are a thin veil for conservative efforts to turn the clock way back.