Now that Trent Franks’s 20-week abortion ban has passed the House, it stands no chance in the Senate. So the debate before its 228-196 passage was probably the last opportunity for the bill’s supporters (and its opponents) to get in some grandstanding on this bit of legislation. This is probably just as well for Franks, who last week said the “incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy (is) very low,” to no shortage of criticism. Franks has since been sidelined, and while the commentary from representatives on both sides was less controversial this week, it was not without its batty moments.
As debate on the bill started, Rep. Michael Burgess, a Republican supporter from Texas and a former OB/GYN, appeared to argue that fetuses in the womb were conscious because they masturbate: “They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?” It’s not the world’s biggest gaffe, but it gets “masturbating fetus” into a headline.
That’s just the kind of thing Dave Weigel was on about in Slate Tuesday evening: that Democrats love to point to problematic Republican science in these debates. And point they did. “Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated a lack of understanding about basic women’s healthcare, and this bill is just one more example of their continuing attack on women’s rights,” said Dina Titus, a Nevada Democrat.
The bill was never going to get to President Obama’s desk, and he said he’d veto it anyway, so it’s not like it’s a viable threat to Roe v. Wade. But it does show us what the new abortion debate will look like: gaffey.