U.S. Rep. Trent Franks questioned whether many sexual assault victims seek abortions late in the second trimester, sparking a political reaction reminiscent of the “legitimate rape” uproar of the 2012 election.
“The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy is very low,” the Arizona Republican said during House Judiciary Committee debate on his legislation, H.R. 1797, which would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.
California Democrat Zoe Lofgren called Frank’s remark “astonishing.”
“The idea that the Republican men on this committee can tell the women of America that they have to carry to term the product of rape is outrageous,” she said.
The Republican-dominated Judiciary Committee’s approval of the measure, on a 20-12 vote, “provides the Democrats with an abundance of message opportunities to solidify their very strong position with female voters,” Rutgers University political scientist Ross Baker said in a telephone interview.
The committee’s action is just “one more reminder that Democrats are the party that supports women’s rights and Republicans are the party that would restrict them and do so based on specious scientific evidence,” Baker said.
House Republican leaders could bring the measure to the floor for a vote as soon as next week.
All 23 Republicans on the panel are male, a fact that Democrats sought to exploit as they reacted to the vote. Five of the panel’s 17 Democratic members are women.
“There is no more eloquent a message to the women of America than the sight of an all-male Republican panel advancing a bill to restrict women’s health choices,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, said in a statement after the panel approved the measure.
Later in the debate, Franks sought to clarify what he meant. “This bill does nothing to restrict abortion performed before the sixth month,” he said “Pregnancies from rape that result in abortion at the beginning of the sixth month are very rare.”
Franks’ comments came as Democrats sought an exception for rape and incest victims; their amendment failed on a vote of 13-17.
The landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade declared unconstitutional state laws banning abortion during the first two trimesters of pregnancy. Subsequent decisions have said states may restrict abortions of fetuses that would be viable outside the mother’s womb.
Comments about abortion by Republican candidates last year helped doom the party’s chances of winning control of the U.S. Senate.
Republican Richard Mourdock lost the Indiana Senate race to Democrat Joe Donnelly after arguing in a debate that “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape” that “is something that God intended to happen.”
Another Republican Senate candidate, Missouri Rep. Todd Akin lost his bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill after saying that “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancy.
Also, Illinois Republican Joe Walsh lost his House seat after saying that abortion is “absolutely” not medically necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life.
“There’s no such exception as life of the mother,” Walsh told reporters after a debate. “And as far as health of the mother, same thing, with advances in science and technology. Health of the mother has become a tool for abortions any time, under any reason.”
One of former President George W. Bush’s top advisers, Karen Hughes, wrote in a Nov. 9 op-ed in Politico that “if another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue.”
“The college-age daughters of many of my friends voted for Obama because they were completely turned off by Neanderthal comments like the suggestion of ‘legitimate rape.’”
Lofgren called the measure an “extreme” one that’s “destined to go nowhere.”