After the uproar over a lawmaker’s comment about sexual-assault victims, Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are preparing a rape exception for a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Pregnancies caused by rape or incest will be excluded from the ban in the legislation, H.R. 1797, under a change to be added by the Rules Committee to avoid a separate vote.
The new text, which the panel is scheduled to consider on June 17, was posted on its website yesterday. Republican leaders plan to bring the bill up for a full House vote later next week.
“There has been a lot of discussion” among Republicans about the measure, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said yesterday on the House floor. “I have been receiving comments, input from members” on the bill, he said. Party leaders who control the chamber had been “weighing” those comments about the bill and “how it comes to the floor,” he said.
Plans to add the exceptions were disclosed two days after the bill’s sponsor, Representative Trent Franks, said during a Judiciary Committee meeting that the number of incidents of rapes causing pregnancy “is very low.”
Franks, an Arizona Republican, made the comment on June 12 as the committee debated a Democratic amendment seeking exceptions for rape and incest. He later sought to clarify his remark, saying that he meant to say that pregnancies caused by rape are only rarely carried for as long as six months before the victim seeks an abortion. The Democratic amendment was rejected in committee by a 13-17 vote.
Democrats circulated a video of Franks making the remark, reigniting an uproar over rape and pregnancy that hurt Republicans in the 2012 election. The Democrats also pointed out that all the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are men.
Republican leaders then replaced Franks as the bill’s floor manager with Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
“This is damage control,” said Jean Schroedel, who teaches politics at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, said of the Republican moves.
She predicted that the leadership’s responses won’t sway Republican Party supporters or abortion-rights activists, “the people who are going to pay attention to this.” What’s more, most voters won’t remember it by the next election, 18 months from now, Schroedel said by telephone.
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a Washington-based abortion-rights group, called the planned legislative change “window dressing” that is “clearly intended solely for public relations purposes,” in a statement.
Franks, meantime, is appealing to supporters for more donations, saying he has become “the No. 1 target of abortionists,” the Arizona Republic newspaper said.
“NARAL, Planned Parenthood and the taxpayer funded abortion lobby is attacking me for one reason -- I’m 100 percent unapologetically pro-life and I won’t back down,” Franks told supporters by e-mail, according to the newspaper’s website.
Franks said abortion-rights advocacy groups “will spend whatever it takes to destroy me, remove me from Congress, and stop me from protecting any more unborn children.”