RH Reality Check has received confirmation from New Mexico’s Children, Youth, and Families Department that Martinez has requested the removal of the “forcible rape” language from the state’s childcare assistance applications. A statement from department explained, “The Governor feels the language is redundant and unnecessary, and she does not support its usage.”
After Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) asserted his belief that “legitimate rape” doesn’t often lead to pregnancy, Republican lawmakers were quick to attempt to configure his radical stance on women’s health as an outlier in their party. However, increasing numbers of GOP politicians’ language about the nature of sexual assault actually echoes Akin’s— including New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R), whose state’s policies use language that effectively narrows the definition of rape.
Not only did Martinez refer to “forcible rape” in an announcement instating April as New Mexico’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month — as if some kinds of sexual assault need to be qualified as more or less “legitimate” than others — but, as RH Reality Check reports, the term also appears in the state’s proposed changes to its official applications for childcare assistance. If the proposed changes take effect, women in New Mexico will be required to prove that their sexual assault qualified as “forcible rape” if they are seeking childcare assistance for a child that resulted from rape:
If adopted, this policy will have numerous implications. It establishes in state law a narrow definition of rape that can and will be applied in other areas of law and policy. It puts a heavy burden on women who have been raped and are now struggling economically to support a child or children to prove the manner in which they were raped and to meet a test set up by the state to exclude many women in need of childcare assistance who would otherwise qualify.
It would force women who have left violent domestic partnerships, who were date-raped, who were impregnated as a result of incest, or through other “non-forcible” but nonetheless equally violent and denigrating means of sexual violation to first re-engage with their abusers to seek child support, putting control of their lives back into the hands of someone by whom they were violated in the most profound sense of the term.
Martinez’s problematic move to narrow the definition of sexual assault is not unique to her state. Last year, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan partnered with Akin to co-sponsor a bill that introduced the concept of “forcible rape” in one of its earlier drafts. The “forcible rape” language was eventually removed from that bill after widespread public outcry, but that hasn’t stopped the concept from permeating the Republican Party.
Women’s health advocates in New Mexico are fighting back against the proposed changes to the childcare assistance applications. Strong Families, a coalition that works to advance the rights of women and immigrants, released a statement expressing their disappointment in Martinez’s “attempt to qualify differing levels of rape,” calling the move “especially egregious” in light of the fact that Martinez was a prominent speaker at last month’s Republican National Convention. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for October 1st.