Washington (CNN) - Averting what would inevitably be a charged debate on the issue of rape, House Republicans Thursday dropped language from a new bill that allows for taxpayer-funded abortions only if a 'forcible rape' has occurred, a spokesperson for Rep. Chris Smith, the bill's sponsor, tells CNN.
The term 'forcible rape' as opposed to 'rape' set off a firestorm among many Democrats, who charged Republicans were attempting to roll back the long-standing federal law that allows for access of federal funds for abortion in the event of rape - without any qualifiers.
The bill – which was authored by Smith, R-New Jersey, and has more than 170 co-sponsors, seeks to expand the prohibitions of federal assistance of abortion by disallowing the use of health savings accounts to pay for the procedure or the use of tax credits and/or deductions for medical bills that relate to abortions.
But the most contested part of the bill quickly became the language that allowed for exemptions of these provisions – namely if a "forcible rape" had occurred, which opponents say is a vague definition at best and a veiled attempt to role back abortion rights at worst.
"Some kind" of rape is NOT okay. It's simple," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, wrote in a statement earlier this week. "Rape is when a woman doesn't consent to have sex, and that is whether she is conscious, unconscious, mentally stable, or not mentally stable."
The new language will now state the prohibitions on federal funding "shall not apply to an abortion if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest" - the same language as the current law.
- CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report