Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Abortion bill sponsor said what?

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
updated 6:53 AM EDT, Mon June 17, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Judiciary Republicans sought anti-abortion bill with no exception for rape, incest
  • Judiciary chair Trent Franks: "Incidents of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low"
  • Donna Brazile: His remark tells women who got pregnant by rape they don't count
  • Brazile: House GOP finally added exception to the bill to avoid embarrassing defeat

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pot in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- "The stupidity is simply staggering," Rep. Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania, told Roll Call. He was referring to the political miscalculation of anti-abortion forces in the House Judiciary Committee who insisted this week on reviving the culture wars, years behind us, still again, with yet another proposed abortion bill.

This bill, championed by Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks, sought to ban abortions after 20 weeks nationwide, with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. "I'll be very frank: I discouraged our leadership from bringing this to a vote on the floor," Dent said.

My e-mail box was flooded with headlines that began "This again?" and "This ... is the GOP's idea of outreach to women? Really?" and "He said what?" The latter referred to a remark by Franks, chairman of the committee, that "incidents of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low," as a justification for the bill ignoring rape and incest victims.

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee were apparently willing to allow the time when an abortion is legal to be reduced by one month. They sought to add exceptions for rape, incest and the woman's health -- all of which were rejected by Republicans on the panel.

But it appears the House Republican leaders, recognizing a train wreck, added the language to the bill anyway to avoid an embarrassing defeat. The bill will also include an exception for a medical emergency in which the woman might die. This new altered version goes before the Rules Committee on Monday. There are, by the way, 22 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee. All men. Not a single woman.

It's hard to avoid inflammatory remarks when discussing rape. And the line between inflammatory and insulting is thin. It's also porous. So if Franks thought he had to address the issue of rape, he should have done so judiciously.

His remark says to women impregnated by rape: You don't count. There aren't enough of you to matter. That's not just insensitive; it's immoral.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, first pounced on the statement's factual inaccuracy. "I just find it astonishing to hear a phrase repeated that the incidence of pregnancy from rape is low," she said. "There's no scientific basis for that."

Then Lofgren, one of five women among the Democratic minority on the committee, added, "And 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 a rape is outrageous."

It might be that Franks' argument, such as it is, echoed a comment by Missouri Republican Rep. Todd Akin, who claimed during his Senate campaign last fall that women's bodies have a built-in mechanism to prevent impregnation from "a legitimate rape." Aiken's candidacy went into a tailspin from that misinformed remark, and never recovered.

Fact checkers have pointed to studies that indicate Franks' claim is as suspect as Akin's. One study by St. Lawrence University found that pregnancies resulting from rape were higher than from other instances.

Franks later walked back his low-pregnancy-from-rape argument, saying he was not claiming it was harder to get pregnant from rape. Franks apparently based his claim on there being fewer pregnancies from rape than from consensual intercourse. Even so, that's a "Duh, do the math" excuse.

GOP aides now say Rep. Marsha Blackburn will be managing Franks' anti-abortion bill. Given her record -- "no" votes on major equality or women-protection legislation and "yea" for issues like ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood -- that's hardly an improvement.

And it misses the point. It's not the who, it's the what -- the argument itself does not stand.

During the Judiciary debate, Franks said, "When you make that exception, there's usually a requirement to report the rape within 48 hours. And in this case that's impossible. ... And that's what completely negates and vitiates the purpose for such an amendment."

So, Franks' argument then became a technical one, that if a rape wasn't reported, a decision after 20 weeks to abort was made too late. But why is it too late? Does psychological trauma have a timetable? Each case of rape that produces a pregnancy is as individual as the woman who was raped. And the ordeal -- psychological, emotional, physical, spiritual -- is not term-limited.

The issue of abortion raises real and poignant moral questions. Franks made many remarks that show his obvious, deeply felt, conviction that abortions after 20 weeks are wrong.

But majorities in Congress and of Americans, also with deep conviction, came to a different conclusion: They feel compelled to support exceptions for rape, incest and health.

Franks' outrageous comment and the viewpoints of other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee illustrate that when one party becomes so narrowly composed that it represents a particular religious culture, we're headed to what people in other countries face when a ruling party begins making laws from religious theology, without regard to a democratic, secular society -- thus excluding other religious viewpoints and dismissing those who suffer as too few to matter.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:34 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT