Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Abortion bill sponsor said what?

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
June 17, 2013 -- Updated 1053 GMT (1853 HKT)
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
September 20, 2014 -- Updated 1624 GMT (0024 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT