A Pennsylvania bill that would have limited welfare benefits for low-income mothers—unless they could prove their newborns were a result of rape—has been withdrawn by the lawmakers who introduced it after a wave of criticism following its announcement.
“The [bill’s] language was not at all what I requested,” said Republican Representative RoseMarie Swanger in a voicemail message to The Daily Beast. “After all the concerned contacts I got, I’m pulling that and working on something better next year.”
House Bill 2718 would have cut assistance to low-income families supplied by the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program, but created an exemption for rape victims and children conceived during rape. The bill would have required women to prove they had reported their rapes to authorities. Critics said this was unrealistic—slightly more than half of all rapes go unreported—but also assumes only rapes that are reported to authorities count as rape.
Swanger told The Daily Beast she decided to yank the bill after a flood of calls from reporters. She had hoped to model the Pennsylvania Bill after a successful law passed in New Jersey that limited welfare funds to families as they had more children.
In an earlier interview with The Daily Beast, Swanger defended the law as a protection for raped women, and said she was surprised by the criticism. “I don’t think a woman [who is] raped, if she chooses to bear a child against her will, I don’t think a woman should be penalized,” said Swanger, referring to a woman’s entitlement to the social program’s dollars.
Swanger’s decision to retract the bill comes on the heels of an election season that has seen legislation across the country aimed at curtailing women’s access to reproductive health care, along with controversial anti-abortion commentary from politicians.
Swanger was quick to disassociate herself from remarks like Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s assertion that children conceived of rape are an act of God, and Missouri Congressman Todd Akin’s hypothesis that “legitimate rape” blocked unintended pregnancies. Swanger defended the rape exemption as language that “makes sense.”
“I know candidates have made stupid remarks about rape. All rape is legitimate,” she said. “What’s not legitimate about it?”