This column is going to plunge into the abortion debate so I suggest holding on to your hats.

A bill was introduced in the House earlier this month that purported to simply codify long standing rules that were accepted, if reluctantly, by both sides of the argument against spending federal tax dollars on abortion.

But that's just the cover.

Delve a little deeper and this bill is outrageously discriminatory against women.

It's hard to pick the worst devil in its details.

But lets start with rape.

Federal rules have always made an exception for using tax dollars for abortions when the woman's life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest.

This bill would change that language to "forcible rape."

That is not a simple change in wording.

Adding "forcible" means a wide array of what we all know are acts of rape would not qualify for federal assistance in the event the victim was impregnated and needed an abortion.

Statutory rape? Nope. Your teenage daughter wouldn't qualify for help under this bill. Nor would a woman who was raped after being drugged or plied with too much booze. Nor a mentally disabled woman.

And since child predators almost always lure or trick their victims into sex without force, even a girl as young as 11 would be denied coverage if such an unspeakable act resulted in pregnancy, which happens to thousands of girls every year in the United States.

Rape isn't rape unless it's "forcible," according to the bill's author, Chris Smith, R-New Jersey and the 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors -- including Kevin McCarthy.

What exactly does "forcible" mean? They don't bother to say, setting up the potential for widely different interpretations throughout the country.

"That language really takes us back to the 1950s when women had to prove they had broken bones or some other severe physical damage in addition to being raped," said Terry O'Neill, vice president of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Organization for Women.

As bad as those parts of the bill are, O'Neill and others pointed out, the insurance issues are just as appalling.

The bill, H.R. 3, would prohibit any health plans that provide abortion coverage from receiving any kind of federal funds.

It would also strip away current tax credits and deductions for individuals and employers who buy private health insurance if those plans included any kind of abortion coverage.

Even an individual tax-exempt health savings account could not be used for an abortion or to pay for any insurance plan that included abortion coverage.

"This would make it impossible for private health insurance to cover abortion at all," O'Neill said. "They are selectively trying to do away with a a certain type of health care for women."

And that includes women who need abortions for medical reasons, like say they have breast cancer or heart disease and unexpectedly get pregnant.

Under this bill, they wouldn't have private coverage for an abortion and federal assistance would not be available unless they could prove the pregnancy would kill them.

"As far as harming your health or causing you irreparable damage, no, it wouldn't be covered under federal assistance," O'Neill said.

OK, I get the theory of not wanting to have the taint of abortion anywhere near federal purse strings. But this bill goes too way far.

My bank is federally insured. Do McCarthy, Smith, et. al. think that gives them the right to tell me how I can spend my money?

"No, no no," McCarthy told me when I got him on the phone and started chewing his ear.

He did sign on as co-sponsor of H.R.3, he acknowledged. But his support was to bring back the original rule of not using federal dollars for abortions, the so-called Hyde Amendment, which McCarthy said was lost in last year's scuffle over health care.

Smith's H.R. 3 is just starting the process and McCarthy was sure it would be whittled back to reflect the Hyde intent.

He wouldn't be offering any amendments himself, he said, as he's not on the committees that will hear the bill.

"But I'm sure we'll get to that point," he said as I sputtered and ranted. "I hear you, loud and clear."

OK then, Mr. Big Cheese Majority Whip, get 'er done.

Fix this.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail