The Obama campaign, its surrogates, and its media allies are accusing Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan of having tried to “redefine rape”–but it was President Barack Obama himself who redefined rape in January 2012, expanding the official federal definition to include male victims and different forms of non-consensual sex. The definition of “forcible” rape to which Ryan–and other legislators, including 11 Democrats–referred in a 2011 bill was in line with the federal definition of rape before Obama changed it. The claim that Ryan tried to “redefine rape” is therefore anachronistic, and provably false.
As the New York Times reported in January:
The old definition — “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will” — covered only forcible penetration of a woman’s vagina by a penis, and excluded many other kinds of sexual assaults that count as rape under more modern definitions.
For example, the outdated definition did not count forcible anal or oral penetration, the penetration of the vagina or anus with an object or other body part, the rape of a man, or the rape of a woman by another woman.
It also did not cover nonconsensual sex that does not involve physical force — like the rape of people who are unable to grant consent because they are drugged, very drunk or younger than the age of statutory consent in their state, a number that varies across the country.
The new definition, which was drafted with input from local and state law enforcement agencies based on more modernized rape laws, encompasses a broader range of such circumstances. Specifically, it covers the “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
Updating the definition of rape as a federal crime to reflect current mores was a change that had consensus support across the political spectrum. Pro-life conservatives did not oppose expanding the definition of rape as a matter of criminal law, to protect women; rather, they were on guard against attempts by pro-abortion advocates to find ways around the ban on federal funding for abortion by abusing the rape exception.
The new federal definition of rape covers statutory rape and date rape–two cases that Ryan is accused, falsely, of trying to narrow through legislation. The bill that Ryan co-sponsored with Missouri Rep. Todd Akin and nearly a dozen Democrats (including current U.S. Senate candidate in Indiana Joe Donnelly) was written in 2011 to reflect then-existing federal law and interpretation. The definition of rape was not expanded until 2012–by which time the term “forcible” had been withdrawn from the bill, with Ryan’s support. To accuse Ryan retroactively of trying to “redefine rape” is therefore a lie–and a vicious one.