Thursday, June 13, 2013

Defending Congressman Trent Franks' Comments About Rape and Pregnancy

Posted By on Thu, Jun 13, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Congressman Trent Franks came under fire yesterday for a comment regarding rape and pregnancy.

Franks clarified his position via an exchange with Talking Points Memo:


“Pregnancies from rape that result in abortion after the beginning of the sixth month are very rare,” Franks said in a statement sent to TPM. “This bill does not address unborn children in earlier gestations. Indeed, the bill does nothing to restrict abortions performed before the beginning of the 6th month.”

Franks made his controversial remark at a Judiciary Committee meeting on his legislation to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, while urging colleagues to reject a Democratic amendment making an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

“The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low,” the congressman 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 because this is in the sixth month of gestation. And that’s what completely negates and vitiates the purpose of such an amendment.”

Franks’ spokesman clarified to TPM what he was trying to say.

“The intention was to comment on the number of abortions that occur at the 6th month and beyond (when the bill would take effect) as a result of rape, NOT the incidence of pregnancy from rape,” said Ben Carnes, “though I know that’s what’s being reported.”

Franks has other defenders. Here's New York's Jonathan Chait:

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.

Is that claim, which is different than Akin's, true? Well, there are about 30,000 pregnancies from rape a year. I'd say that's a lot. I suppose that if you're comparing it to the total number of abortions, a figure that's 20 to 30 times larger, you could argue it isn't so many. From Franks's starting point, in which which abortion is murder, the United States allows massive murder of human beings on an unthinkable scale, next to which 30,000 annual pregnancies looms small. If (like me) you don't share his view of abortion, that 30,000 pregnancies looms large.

In any case, Franks was not relying on pseudoscientific nuttery about the lady-parts shutting down pregnancy in the case of rape. He was saying something different.

And here's Dave Weigel at Slate:


But this is a little pat. Not every comment about rape and abortion is a "Todd Akin" comment. In 2012 Todd Akin said something uniquely stupid, with roots in anti-abortion psuedoscience—that a "legitimate," violent rape, being so stressful to the woman, was unlikely to cause pregnancy. That wasn't what Richard Mourdock said in a debate for Indiana's U.S. Senate seat; he said a child resulting from a rape was part of God's design. It also wasn't what Franks said here. He referred to "the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy," not the question of whether rape can cause pregnancy. "Incidence," as Jonathan Chait pointed out before I could, means the rate of something occuring. Franks was chiding Democrats for making every abortion debate about the most controversial aspect of abortion rights, arguing that 1) it was an outlier and 2) his bill wouldn't affect that.

So, that's where the pummelling of Franks goes wrong. He's still making a lousy case for his bill. He seems to be assuming that women would realize they're pregnant around the time they report rapes. That's a reach. He's sticking with the classic "forcible/violent" definition of rape, implicitly nixing date rape from the definition. He's also saying that a trauma occuring merely 30,000 times every year—pregnancy caused by rape—is a distraction. That's ironic, because the gas in the engine for this push is the trial of Kermit Gosnell, who was performing illegal and fraudulent partial-birth abortions. Pro-lifers aim to prove that Gosnell wasn't an outlier, that every late-term abortion is just as gruesome. If his crimes horrify you, if the worst-case scenarios make you think again, you should want to ban abortion altogether. I don't think Franks sees the symmetry between that position and the honest positions of the pro-choicers.

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