Why Trent Franks Is Actually Worse Than Todd Akin

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Photo: Getty Images, Corbis

A bill to ban abortions after the twentieth week of pregnancy — when some theorize a fetus can feel pain — made its way out of the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, but not before another GOP lawmaker put his foot in his mouth about rape. Arguing against committee Democrats’ proposed exception for women pregnant from rape or incest, Arizona’s Representative Trent Franks (who is also the bill’s main sponsor) said that “the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.” Before the votes were cast, the media inducted Franks into the brotherhood of gaffe-felled Republicans Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.

Slate’s Dave Weigel and my colleague Jonathan Chait were on hand to cut through the now-rote outrage. Hoping to repeat 2012, liberals had been on the lookout for more Akins, according to Chait, but were too quick on the draw. “He didn’t say it was hard to get pregnant when you’re raped,” Chait wrote, explaining the difference between “incidence” and “rate.” “He said rape-induced pregnancy doesn’t happen very often.” Weigel agreed: “Not every comment about rape and abortion is a ‘Todd Akin’ comment.”

I think Franks’s comments are worse. Sure, they lacked Akin’s laughable pseudoscientific rationale, the body’s mysterious "ways to try to shut that whole thing down." But that doesn’t make their shared conclusion — pregnancies resulting from rape are rare — any less wrong, or legislating on its basis any less dangerous. The Akin comparison isn’t just a politically unsophisticated witch hunt led by lady liberals and the men who want their votes. (If only one had to look for more Akins!) Franks’s remarks demonstrated a unique ignorance that ought to disqualify him from legislating abortion: He doesn’t understand why women get the late-term abortions he wants to make illegal.

This is obvious from Franks’s case against the amendment that would have allowed for an exception in cases of rape or incest. “There’s usually a requirement to report the rape within 48 hours,” he said, and his bill only applies to women who are six months pregnant. By then, according to Frank’s logic, it’d be too late to cry rape. (The Hyde Amendment rape exception applies to women on Medicaid, who get reimbursed for their abortions if they provide a police report or, in some states, a doctor’s note saying they were raped, but in practice this rarely happens.) And any legitimately raped pregnant women would have gotten an abortion as quickly as possible.

But in most cases, women don’t wait to get abortions because they haven’t decided yet. They wish they could have gotten them earlier. Women who get abortions in the second trimester usually didn’t know they were pregnant, couldn’t get a day off work, or needed to save up for the costs of traveling to the state’s sole abortion clinic, to say nothing of the cost of the abortion itself. State laws designed to run out the clock or shut down clinics, such as mandatory waiting periods and hospital admitting privileges, create more obstacles.

These are the reasons women, including those pregnant from rape, need all 24 weeks allotted by Roe v. Wade to get an abortion. I don’t expect lawmakers to know that some women continue to get their period throughout pregnancy (though it’d be nice, as long as they’re going to legislate about it), but all of this was in the New York Times this week. Franks could end fetal pain forever, if he wanted to, by making insurers cover no copay first trimester abortion on demand. But he’s just another pro-life lawmaker whose rhetoric fails to address the messy biological and economic circumstances that govern women’s reproductive lives.

And then there’s the really scary thing about Franks: He’s already elected.