U.S. Representative Trent Franks reignited last year’s political campaign uproar about pregnancy and rape by questioning yesterday whether many sexual-assault victims who become pregnant seek late-term abortions.
Democrats pounced on the Arizona Republican’s comments during the House Judiciary Committee’s consideration of his legislation, H.R. 1797, that would ban all abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.
They later distributed a video clip of Franks stating that “the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy is very low” during a discussion about an amendment to the bill that would have provided an exemption for victims of rape or incest.
During the debate, Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren of California called Franks's remark “astonishing,” saying the “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.”
Approval of the bill by the Republican-majority Judiciary Committee, on a 20-12 vote, “provides the Democrats with an abundance of message opportunities to solidify their very strong position with female voters,” Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, said in a telephone interview.
Franks’s comments had immediate political reverberations in Massachusetts, where Gabriel Gomez, the Republican candidate in a June 25 special election for a Senate seat, sought yesterday to disassociate himself from the remarks.
“He’s a moron and he proves that ‘stupid’ has no specific political affiliation,” Gomez told ABC News. He is running against Democratic Representative Ed Markey for the seat previously held by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Franks accused Democrats of distorting his meaning. “Unfortunately, I perhaps assisted a little bit in the phraseology that allowed them to do it,” he told reporters.
The six-term lawmaker said that during the debate on a Democratic amendment to provide an exception for rape victims, he was trying to state that “pregnancies from rape that result in the mother deciding to abort after the sixth month begins are very, very rare.”
The Democratic amendment failed on a vote of 13-17.
House Republican leaders could bring the bill to the floor for a vote as soon as next week. Franks said he spoke with members of the House leadership and received assurances that “they are not persuaded by the false characterization of my comments.”
All 23 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are men, a fact that Democrats sought to exploit as they reacted to the vote. Five of the panel’s 17 Democrats 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 of California, said in a statement after the panel approved the measure,
The landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade struck down many state laws limiting abortion. Subsequent decisions have said that 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” it “is something that God intended to happen.”
Another Republican Senate candidate, Representative Todd Akin of Missouri, lost his bid to unseat Democratic Senator 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 opinion column 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.”
She added that 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.’”
In an interview after yesterday’s vote, Lofgren called the measure an “extreme” one that is “destined to go nowhere.”
Last year, a bill that would have limited abortions in the District of Columbia failed on a vote of 220-154, short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage.
To contact the reporter on this story: James Rowley in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at email@example.com