WASHINGTON – Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, created an online furor June 12 with comments in a House committee hearing that “the estimates of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.”
Franks’ office quickly clarified the remark, which came during debate on his bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, saying it referred to the number of late-term abortions resulting from rape. But not before critics jumped on the remark.
“His intended comment was about the incidents of abortions arising from rape, not pregnancies arising from rape,” Franks’ spokesman Ben Carnes said.
Though he added, “I guess that’s been what’s reported.”
It was reported by the Washington Post and quickly picked up by other media, including the New York Times, USA Today, Huffington Post, NBC and The Arizona Republic.
Twitter was abuzz with critics who compared Franks to Todd Akin, the Missouri Senate candidate whose 2012 Senate campaign was derailed by his statement that pregnancy could not result from “legitimate” rape.
Those comments were followed in short order by defenders claiming in other Internet posts that Franks is “no Todd Akin.”
The remark came during House Judiciary Committee debate over the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” Franks’ bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks – the point at which bill supporters claim a fetus can feel pain – except when the life of the mother is at risk.
Democrats on the committee tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to add exceptions to preserve the life “and health” of the mother or for a pregnancy that was the result of rape or incest. Franks’ argument against the rape exception started the outcry.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., was among many lawmakers who criticized Franks for his comments.
“I am stunned that some of my colleagues continue to trivialize the horror of a woman being forced to bear her rapist’s child,” Nadler said in a statement. “While they may be unsympathetic, they should not pretend that this doesn’t occur, or rarely occur.”
Nadler added that even if rape from pregnancy rarely occurred, those few women deserve support.
But Franks said later that nothing in the bill would prevent a rape victim from getting an abortion – if she did so before 20 weeks of gestation.
“Pregnancies from rape that result in abortion after the beginning of the sixth month are very rare. This bill does not address unborn children in earlier gestations,” Franks said in a statement after the hearing. “Indeed, the bill does nothing to restrict abortions performed before the beginning of the sixth month.”
Franks’ bill, which has 171 House cosponsors, originally applied only to Washington, D.C. It was amended last month to apply nationwide in light of the murder convictions of a Philadelphia doctor in the deaths of three fetuses born alive in botched abortions.
Franks cites those convictions as proof his bill is needed, even in light of a 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals ruling last month that declared a similar Arizona law unconstitutional.
The committee passed his bill June 12 on a 20-12 vote, with all Republicans and one Democrat on the committee voting for it.
“I look forward to a floor vote on the bill,” Franks said in a Facebook posting later Wednesday.