Abortion politics — and the politics of rape — were back with a vengeance Wednesday, with House Judiciary Committee Republicans backing a nationwide ban on abortions after 20 weeks after the bill's chief sponsor dismissed a Democratic push for exemptions for rape and incest.
Democrats pounced, sending around images of the all-male Republican lineup on the panel and ripping Arizona Rep. Trent Franks' comment that “the instance of pregnancy resulting from rape is very low.”
Moderate Republican Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania also slammed members of GOP leadership for planning to bring the bill to the floor next week for a vote.
“I’ll be very frank: I discouraged our leadership from bringing this to a vote on the floor,” Dent told CQ Roll Call. “Clearly the economy is on everyone’s minds, we’re seeing very stagnant job numbers, confidence in the institution of government is eroding and now we’re going to have a debate on rape and abortion.
“The stupidity is simply staggering,” he said.
A previous iteration of this abortion ban bill was brought up for a vote in the 112th Congress, when it related only to the District of Columbia. It had majority support but failed under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority for passage. Six Republicans voted against that bill; Dent is the only one who is still in Congress.
Franks pointed to a moral obligation.
"Knowingly subjecting our innocent unborn children to dismemberment in the womb, particularly when they have developed to the point that they can feel excruciating pain every terrible moment leading up to their undeserved deaths, belies everything America was called to be. This is not who we are," Franks said in a statement following the passage of the bill by the committee, 20-12.
Indeed, many rank-and-file Republicans want leadership to bring an abortion bill to the floor, dismissing concerns that voters will think they aren't focusing on jobs or other pressing legislation that might have a chance of becoming law.
“The assumption that suddenly everything else stops while we’re doing this bill” is false, said Republican Policy Committee Chairman James Lankford of Oklahoma. “Every other committee is still working, all the other oversight is still happening, this is one day that it will be on the floor for probably two hours.”
“There are some things that are just automatic pilot,” added Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. “Complaining about what is brought up on the floor is something that will always happen, no matter what the subject is.”
But Dent thinks there could be more “no” votes this time around from his Republican colleagues, now that the reach of the bill has been expanded nationwide in response to the conviction of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell for killing three infants after they had been born.
“I wouldn’t look at the roll call from the last time and assume that’s the vote this time,” he said.
Democrats and abortion-rights groups flooded reporters' email on the vote, convinced the GOP is misreading the public.
“Moving this bill forward before the full House, as [Speaker John A.] Boehner and [Majority Leader Eric] Cantor have promised, serves as a reminder that Congressional Republican leaders continue to ignore the results of the last election and even further proves that their so-called 'reboot' is nothing but a joke,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement. “The House of Representatives should be working on legislation to fix our economy, not wasting their time and our money re-fighting 40-year-old battles.”
Franks tried to walk back his rape comment later in the day, clarifying that he was not saying it was harder for a rape victim to get pregnant.
“My friends on the other side constantly want to try to inject the rape/incest question always into the debate,” Franks said. “Just to make clear my point earlier, pregnancies from rape that result in abortion after the beginning of the sixth month are very rare. That’s a matter of fact.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who challenged Franks for his remarks during the markup, dismissed his efforts at clarification.
“I had my staff go [and check]. ... I thought, ‘Did I miss this?’” she asked. “So they went and found the clip, and that’s what he said. And he can try and pretend he didn’t say it ... [and] I mean, maybe what he said wasn’t what he intended, but it’s what he said.”
Spokesmen for Boehner and Cantor declined to comment on Franks’ remarks or offer insights into how such comments could affect the GOP Conference’s overall image.
But the remark seemed to hark back to former Republican Rep. Todd Akin's infamous "legitimate rape" comment last year that all but sank his Missouri Senate bid and gave Democrats more fodder for their "war on women" campaign meme.
Dent said there's no question the remark was damaging: “It has the very unfortunate effect of branding many Republicans who do not embrace the view of those who make these incendiary, and I would argue uninformed, comments.”