If it’s Friday, it must be time for the weekly review of Republicans’ sometimes perplexing, often infuriating, always electrifying exercise in self-immolation popularly known as the party’s War on Women.
No question, the latest entry, by Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, was impressively soundbite-ready: “The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.” It’s tidy, pithy—plus, it includes the word “rape,” which is a proven attention grabber.
This phrase had, in fact, barely left Franks’s mouth at Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee debate of his bill to ban the termination of pregnancies over 20 weeks, including those resulting from rape and incest, when the public beatdown began. Franks is being lumped in with fellow conservative travelers such as Todd “legitimate rape” Akin as proof that he is just another anti-science, know-nothing moron.
Swimming against the tide, New York magazine scribe (and long-time friend) Jon Chait stepped forward to suggest that Franks’s critics are totally misinterpreting the beleaguered congressman:
But Franks didn't say the "rate" of pregnancy from rape is low. He said the "incidence" is low. He didn't say it's hard to get pregnant when you're raped. He said rape-induced pregnancy doesn't happen very often…. Franks was not relying on pseudoscientific nuttery about the lady-parts shutting down pregnancy in the case of rape. He was saying something different.
Yes, he was. In fact, if you look at Franks’s statement in context, you get an even better sense of his aim. Franks’s “rape” line was part of a whinging accusation that, whenever the subject of abortion comes up, Dems don’t play fair: “My friends on the left side of the aisle try to make rape and incest the subject.”
Well, cry me a river. I’m sorry, but whatever inarticulate point Franks was struggling to make about certain types of abortions, it is pretty damn clear that he is the one who injected rape and incest into this discussion with the absolutist construction of his bill.
If Franks were seriously interested in reducing the number of abortions in this country, and if he does in fact believe that the number of pregnancies resulting from rape and incest is so negligible as to be insignificant, then his legislation should have included exceptions for such horrific circumstances. Not because he personally thinks the offspring of such crimes are less deserving of protection, but because this would have the effect of removing from his bill what pretty much everyone who has paid one minute of attention to the abortion debate knows is a big fat poison pill. In so doing, he would have forced pro-choice advocates onto much murkier terrain. Plenty of non-conservatives are squeamish about 20-plus-week abortions. The quickest way to help them get over their squeamishness is to leave rape and incest in the equation.
He is, rather, playing the most cynical kind of politics.
But Franks obviously isn’t serious about amassing support and passing legislation to reduce abortions. He is, rather, playing the most cynical kind of politics: brandishing his moral and ideological purity in a move guaranteed to launch yet another culture-war skirmish that may very well thrill his base back home but will tank any chance of his bill becoming law.
This doesn’t make him an idiot so much as a demagogue. It’s a tough call as to which is worse.