Despite the fact that low-income women who give birth to children would logically need increased assistance to care for their larger family, Pennsylvania lawmakers — State Reps. RoseMarie Swanger (R), Tom Caltagirone (D), Mark Gillen (R), Keith Gillespie (R), Adam Harris (R), and Mike Tobash (R) — don’t want their state’s welfare program to provide additional benefits for that newborn. If a woman gives birth to a child who was conceived from rape, she may seek an exception to this rule so that her welfare benefits aren’t slashed, but only if she can provide proof that she reported her sexual assault and her abuser’s identity to the police:
In determining the amount of assistance payments to a recipient family of benefits under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Program, the department shall revise the schedule of benefits to be paid to the recipient family by eliminating the increment in benefits under the program for which that family would otherwise be eligible as a result of the birth of a child conceived during the period in which the family is eligible for benefits under the TANF Program. [...]
Elimination of benefits under subsection (d) shall not apply to any child conceived as a result of rape or incest if the department: (1) receives a non-notarized, signed statement from the pregnant woman stating that she was a victim of rape or incest, as the case may be, and that she reported the crime, including the identity of the offender, if known, to a law enforcement agency having the requisite jurisdiction or, in the case of incest where a pregnant minor is the victim, to the county child protective service agency and stating the name of the law enforcement agency or child protective service agency to which the report was made and the date such report was made.
The language of the bill goes on to note that a sexual assault victim applying for an exemption will be required to sign a statement affirming she understands that “false reports to law enforcement authorities are punishable by law,” and stipulates that Pennsylvania will report any “evidence of false statements or fraud” to the correct department, all the way up to the Attorney General’s office.
Aside from punishing women who have children — particularly low-income women who may not have reliable access to affordable contraception — the proposed bill perpetrates a dangerous attitude toward survivors of sexual assault. Forcing women to prove the legitimacy of their sexual assault, and warning them about the serious consequences of “crying rape” to cheat the system, puts forth the misguided assumption that victims of sexual violence are not to be believed. Furthermore, countless women choose not to report their rapists to the police because they fear repercussions from their abusers, who could threaten their lives. An estimated 54 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the authorities.
This is not the first type of legislation of its kind. Last month, New Mexico proposed a bill that would have required women seeking childcare assistance to prove they were “forcibly raped,” although Gov. Susana Martinez (R) has requested to remove that language.