Does the Alabama Abortion Ban Have a ‘False Rape’ Reporting Clause?
In the days before the Alabama Senate voted to pass a nearly total abortion ban in the state, claims that the accuser would be imprisoned if the accused was found not guilty spread on social media.
Four days before the Alabama Senate voted to pass a near-total ban on abortion in Alabama, a Facebook screenshot by act.tv of two tweets (archived here) claimed that the legislation included a clause enabling imprisoning those reporting rapes in the state if the accused was not found guilty:
A tweet at the bottom by Adam Savage from May 9 2019 was still live on May 15 2019, but whatever he retweeted was no longer available. Together, they read:
so the Alabama abortion criminalization bill has an extra tacked on to the end of it wherein, if a woman reports being raped and they find the person she accused not guilty, SHE goes to jail, because it’s declared a false rape accusation.
What. The. Fucking. Fuck. (I rarely curse this pointedly on the tweets but this shit just keeps getting darker and darker)
The original accusation was worrisome, especially compared with statistics about reporting and successfully prosecuting rape charges overall.
A 2018 Washington Post piece, relying on data from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), noted that less than a third of rapes are reported to police. From there, prosecution statistics are bleak:
Just 5.7 percent of incidents end in arrest, 0.7 percent result in a felony conviction and 0.6 percent result in incarceration, RAINN found. The organization’s website notes these figures are approximations, not scientific estimates, because their analysis “combines data from studies with different methodologies.”
Back to the May 2019 passage of a new abortion ban in Alabama, the bill as it passed (Alabama House Bill 314) was available for review on the state’s legislature site. No portion of that bill mentioned the word “rape,” as the legislation famously allowed no provision for individuals who become pregnant as a result of rape to legally obtain an abortion in the state of Alabama. Consequently, penalties for false reporting of rape would be out of place, as rape survivors in the state of Alabama were legally unable to obtain an abortion under the law in the form in which it was passed.
In that light, it looked as if the claim was entirely false. However, that wasn’t exactly the case.
Savage’s tweet appeared on May 9 2019; on May 8 2019, Alabama news site AL.com reported on a bill proposed by Alabama State Representative Dickie Drake in an article with the headline, “Alabama bill would criminalize false rape accusations”:
The bill, introduced by Rep. Dickie Drake, R-Leeds, would make falsely reporting a sex crime a Class C felony and punishable by up to 10 years in prison. If the accused is found not guilty, the accuser would be responsible for paying the accused person’s legal expenses.
It is already illegal to make a false police report in Alabama.
Drake said he decided to create the bill because of a friend whose ex wife falsely accused him and his new wife of sexually abusing their kids.
As AL.com noted, the false reporting of any crime was already a crime itself. Drake’s bill was House Bill 544 [PDF], and available for review in the same format as House Bill 314. HB 544 was introduced on May 2 2019, reading in part:
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA:
19 Section 1. Section 13A-6-72 is added to the Code of Alabama 1975, to read as follows:
(a) A person commits the crime of making a false sexual allegation if:
(1) He or she willfully, knowingly, and with malicious intent, makes a false report of rape in the first degree, sodomy in the first degree, or sexual torture, and whose allegations are proven to be false.
(2) He or she willfully, knowingly, and with malicious intent, makes a false report of rape in the second degree, sodomy in the second degree, sexual misconduct, sexual abuse in the first degree, sexual abuse in the second degree, indecent exposure, enticing child to enter vehicle, house etc., for immoral purposes, sexual abuse of a child under 12, or foster parent engaging in a sex act, etc., with a foster child, and whose allegations are proven to be false.
In the above tweet, the original poster said, “if a woman reports being raped and they find the person she accused not guilty, SHE goes to jail, because it’s declared a false rape accusation.” By contrast, the law held if “[a person reporting a rape] willfully, knowingly, and with malicious intent, makes a false report of rape … and whose allegations are proven to be false” he or she could be charged with a ” Class C felony.” (In Alabama, a Class C felony is punishable by between one year and one day and ten years in prison.)
Under the wording of House Bill 544 as proposed, the individual would have to “willfully, knowingly, and with malicious intent, make a false report of rape” in order to be charged. However, the “whose allegations are proven to be false” portion introduced some ambiguity as to whether that included false reporting of a sexual assault with intent to deceive, or simply a defendant being found not guilty.
Unlike House Bill 314 banning nearly all abortions in Alabama, House Bill 544’s rape reporting legislation had not yet been passed as of May 15 2019. The original post implied that the two bills were one, which was not the case. However, it was true that both bills traversed the Alabama state legislature at the same time and both were real. Also, given the already extremely low rate of rape prosecution, it stood to reason House Bill 544 would deter sexual assault victims from reporting their assaults for fear of further consequence.
The circulating pair of tweets are not exactly untrue, but they conflate two bills: Alabama’s abortion ban and a proposed rape reporting law. As of May 15 2019, nearly all abortion was slated to become illegal in the state of Alabama, and a proposed bill would enact penalties for “false rape” reporting. Although the two bills are separate, both are authentic.