News Abortion

Trent Franks, GOP Revive War on Women at House Hearing on 20-Week Abortion Ban

Adele M. Stan

The GOP bill would ban all abortions after 20 weeks, irrespective of the circumstances faced by women and their families, and removing medical decisions from the hands of women and their doctors.

See all our coverage of HR 1797 here.

If Republicans had hopes of shoring up their credibility with women voters ahead of the midterm congressional elections, today’s hearing in the House Judiciary Committee may have just dashed them, especially when Rep. Trent Franks (R-GA) echoed the fateful claims of a vanquished Senate candidate when he claimed that rape rarely results in pregnancy.

The hearing was a mark-up session for a bill sponsored by Franks that would ban virtually all abortion beginning at 20 weeks after fertilization, setting up a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion and determined fetal viability as the point after which abortions may be banned, with exceptions for the health and life of the woman. Franks’ bill was framed by the National Right to Life Committee, and was first introduced as a measure that would have applied only to the District of Columbia, over which Congress has greater control than it does over the states.

But in the wake of the trial of murderer Kermit Gosnell, who ran an illegal abortion clinic in Philadelphia, Republicans on the committee sought to make hay by attempting to conflate Gosnell’s crimes—which have been condemned by all major pro-choice groups—with all abortions. The 20-week ban put forward by Franks has no chance of passage in the current Congress, since it is guaranteed defeat in the Senate, making today’s hearing a bit of a show put on in the hope of shifting public opinion on abortion.

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But Franks’ remarks may result in blowback on Republicans, a result that Democrats likely hoped for when ranking member John Conyers (D-MI) offered an amendment to the 20-week ban that would have created an exception for victims of rape and incest. After Conyers introduced his amendment, Franks’ objected that the Conyers amendment did not require women claiming to have been raped to have reported the rape within a specified time period after it occurred.

The Democrats, Franks said, were “trying to make rape and incest the subject, because the incidence of rapes resulting in pregnancy are very low.” He continued: “But when you make that exception, there’s usually a requirement to report the rape within 48 hours. In this case, this is impossible, because this is in the sixth month of gestation.”

A 1996 study conducted at the University of South Carolina Medical Center found that 32.4 percent of the rape victims investigators surveyed did not realize they were pregnant until the second trimester of pregnancy. Investigators concluded: “Rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency.”

“I don’t think any of us would argue that a child should be killed,” Franks said, “because of the sins of an evil rapist. What we should do is be harder on rapists…I wonder how many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would suggest the death penalty for the rapist, but they certainly do for the child.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) suggested that Franks was implying that women would lie in order to secure a later abortion.

Among the Republicans on the committee, there are no women, a fact that Democrats took pains to note. “I just find it astonishing to hear a phrase repeated that the incidence of pregnancy from rape is low; that’s not true. There’s no scientific basis for that,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). “The idea that the Republican men on this committee think they can tell the women of America that they have to carry to term the product of a rape is outrageous.”

Lofgren also noted that victims of incest are “oftentimes not in a position to report the abuse,” especially if the abuser is a young woman’s father.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the committee chairman, opened the hearing with a statement citing a discredited study by physician Kanwaljeet Anand as evidence that fetuses experience pain at 20 weeks of gestation. (Franks’ bill is named the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.”) “Babies are babies,” Goodlatte said, “and they can feel pain at 20 weeks.”

Another member of the majority, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), used his wife’s personal choice to give birth to their daughter after the fetus was diagnosed with spina bifida as his rationale for embracing the 20-week abortion ban.

Nadler offered an amendment that would have allowed for exceptions to preserve the life and health of a pregnant woman.

Lofgren noted the heartbreaking story of a constituent who learned late in pregnancy that the brain of her fetus was developing outside of the cerebral cortex, and doctors told her that to bring the fetus to term would compromise the woman’s future fertility. The 20-week ban, Lofgren suggested, would not have permitted her abortion.

In the end, both Nadler’s and Conyers’ amendments were rejected, and the 20-week abortion passed through committee on a party-line vote—meaning that every vote for the bill was cast by a man.

News Race

At ‘Pro-Life’ Conference, Silence on Police Violence

Amy Littlefield

Among the only contributions to the national dialogue taking place over racial justice and state violence was a card circulated in the exhibit hall by a group called the Radiance Foundation that read “All Lives Matter In & Out of the Womb.”

As one of the nation’s largest anti-choice groups launched its three-day conference in Herndon, Virginia, Thursday, a very different conversation was underway on the national stage.

Across the country, peaceful protests erupted over the police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

As Rewire’s Imani Gandy has documented, the anti-choice movement has long attempted to appropriate the language of racial justice and the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag as part of a wider effort to shame Black women and cast abortion as “Black genocide.”

But at the National Right to Life Convention, the overriding response to last week’s police killings was silence. Among the only contributions to the national dialogue taking place over racial justice was a card circulated in the exhibit hall by a group called the Radiance Foundation that read “All lives matter In & Out of the womb.”

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Rewire asked convention director Jacki Ragan whether she thought the issue should have been raised explicitly at the conference.

“We are very single issue,” Ragan said. “We are here because of a threat to human life. We believe the unborn child is a human being from the moment of fertilization. We believe the disabled should have the same rights, [the] elderly should have the same rights, so we’re very single issue. So, no, I don’t really think it would be appropriate to address what had happened other than through prayer at the conference.”

At a prayer breakfast on Friday morning, after conference-goers awoke to the news five police officers had been killed by a gunman in Dallas, Rev. Dennis Kleinmann of St. Veronica Catholic Church in Chantilly, Virginia, prayed for guidance “to make this a better world, a world free of war and violence of every kind, including attacks on those who protect us.”

Ernest Ohlhoff, National Right to Life Committee outreach director, addressed the violence more directly.

“I don’t know if any of you heard the news this morning, but unfortunately we had another catastrophe in our country,” he said. “Five police officers in Dallas were killed in a shooting and [at least] six wounded, and I would ask you to pray for them and their families.”

No prayers were offered for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, or their families. 

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Trump Weighs in on Supreme Court Decision, After Pressure From Anti-Choice Leaders

Ally Boguhn

The presumptive Republican nominee’s confirmation that he opposed the decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt came after several days of silence from Trump on the matter—much to the lamentation of anti-choice advocates.

Donald Trump commented on the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion decision this week—but only after days of pressure from anti-choice advocates—and Hillary Clinton wrote an op-ed explaining how one state’s then-pending decision on whether to fund Planned Parenthood illustrates the high stakes of the election for reproductive rights and health.

Following Anti-Choice Pressure, Trump Weighs in on Supreme Court’s Abortion Decision

Trump finally broke his silence Thursday about the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week, which struck down two provisions of Texas’ HB 2 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

“Now if we had Scalia was living, or if Scalia was replaced by me, you wouldn’t have had that,” Trump claimed of the Court’s decision, evidently not realizing that the Monday ruling was 5 to 3 and one vote would not have made a numerical difference, during an appearance on conservative radio program The Mike Gallagher Show. “It would have been the opposite.” 

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“So just to confirm, under a President Donald Trump-appointed Supreme Court, you wouldn’t see a majority ruling like the one we had with the Texas abortion law this week?” asked host Mike Gallagher.

“No…you wouldn’t see that,” replied Trump, who also noted that the case demonstrated the important role the next president will play in steering the direction of the Court through judicial nominations.

The presumptive Republican nominee’s confirmation that he opposed the decision in Whole Woman’s Health came after several days of silence from Trump on the matter—prompting much lamentation from anti-choice advocates. Despite having promised to nominate anti-choice Supreme Court justices and pass anti-abortion restrictions if elected during a meeting with more than 1,000 faith and anti-choice leaders in New York City last week, Trump made waves among those who oppose abortion when he did not immediately comment on the Court’s Monday decision.

“I think [Trump’s silence] gives all pro-life leaders pause,” said the president of the anti-choice conservative organization The Family Leader, Bob Vander Plaats, prior to Trump’s comments Thursday, according to the Daily Beast. Vander Plaats, who attended last week’s meeting with Trump, went on suggest that Trump’s hesitation to weigh in on the matter “gives all people that are looking for life as their issue, who are looking to support a presidential candidate—it gives them an unnecessary pause. There shouldn’t have to be a pause here.”

“This is the biggest abortion decision that has come down in years and Hillary Clinton was quick to comment—was all over Twitter—and yet we heard crickets from Donald Trump,” Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, said in a Tuesday statement to the Daily Beast.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, expressed similar dismay on Wednesday that Trump hadn’t addressed the Court’s ruling. “So where was Mr. Trump, the candidate the pro-life movement is depending upon, when this blow hit?” wrote Hawkins, in an opinion piece for the Washington Post. “He was on Twitter, making fun of Elizabeth Warren and lamenting how CNN has gone negative on him. That’s it. Nothing else.”

“Right now in the pro-life movement people are wondering if Mr. Trump’s staff is uninformed or frankly, if he just doesn’t care about the topic of life,” added Hawkins. “Was that meeting last week just a farce, just another one of his shows?”

Anti-choice leaders, however, were not the only ones to criticize Trump’s response to the ruling. After Trump broke his silence, reproductive rights leaders were quick to condemn the Republican’s comments.

“Donald Trump has been clear from the beginning—he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, and said he believes a woman should be ‘punished’ if she has an abortion,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which has already endorsed Clinton for the presidency, in a statement on Trump’s comments. 

“Trump’s remarks today should send a shiver down the spine of anyone who believes women should have access to safe, legal abortion. Electing Trump means he will fight to take away the very rights the Supreme Court just ruled this week are constitutional and necessary health care,” continued Laguens.

In contrast to Trump’s delayed reaction, presumptive Democratic nominee Clinton tweeted within minutes of the landmark abortion rights decision, “This fight isn’t over: The next president has to protect women’s health. Women won’t be ‘punished’ for exercising their basic rights.”

Clinton Pens Op-Ed Defending Planned Parenthood in New Hampshire

Clinton penned an op-ed for the Concord Monitor Wednesday explaining that New Hampshire’s pending vote on Planned Parenthood funding highlighted “what’s at stake this election.”

“For half a century, Planned Parenthood has been there for people in New Hampshire, no matter what. Every year, it provides care to almost 13,000 people who need access to services like counseling, contraception, and family planning,” wrote Clinton. “Many of these patients cannot afford to go anywhere else. Others choose the organization because it’s the provider they know and trust.”

The former secretary of state went on to contend that New Hampshire’s Executive Council’s discussion of denying funds to the organization was more than “just playing politics—they’re playing with their constituents’ health and well-being.” The council voted later that day to restore Planned Parenthood’s contract.

Praising the Supreme Court’s Monday decision in Whole Woman’s Health, Clinton cautioned in the piece that although it was a “critical victory,” there is still “work to do as long as obstacles” remained to reproductive health-care access.

Vowing to “make sure that a woman’s right to make her own health decisions remains as permanent as all of the other values we hold dear” if elected, Clinton promised to work to protect Planned Parenthood, safeguard legal abortion, and support comprehensive and inclusive sexual education programs.

Reiterating her opposition to the Hyde Amendment, which bans most federal funding for abortion care, Clinton wrote that she would “fight laws on the books” like it that “make it harder for low-income women to get the care they deserve.”

Clinton’s campaign noted the candidate’s support for repealing Hyde while answering a 2008 questionnaire provided by Rewire. During the 2016 election season, the federal ban on abortion funding became a more visible issue, and Clinton noted in a January forum that the ban “is just hard to justify” given that restrictions such as Hyde inhibit many low-income and rural women from accessing care.

What Else We’re Reading

Politico Magazine’s Bill Scher highlighted some of the potential problems Clinton could face should she choose former Virginia governor Tim Kaine as her vice presidential pickincluding his beliefs about abortion.

Foster Friess, a GOP mega-donor who once notoriously said that contraception is “inexpensive … you know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly,” is throwing his support behind Trump, comparing the presumptive Republican nominee to biblical figures.

Clinton dropped by the Toast on the publication’s last day, urging readers to follow the site’s example and “look forward and consider how you might make your voice heard in whatever arenas matter most to you.”

Irin Carmon joined the New Republic’s “Primary Concerns” podcast this week to discuss the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt on the election.

According to analysis from the Wall Street Journal, the popularity of the Libertarian Party in this year’s election could affect the presidential race, and the most likely outcome is “upsetting a close race—most likely Florida, where the margin of victory is traditionally narrow.”

The Center for Responsive Politics’ Alec Goodwin gave an autopsy of Jeb Bush’s massive Right to Rise super PAC.

Katie McGinty (D), who is running against incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R) in Pennsylvania, wrote an op-ed this week for the Philly Voice calling to “fight efforts in Pa. to restrict women’s access to health care.”

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled against an attempt to restore voting rights to more than 20,000 residents affected by the state’s law disenfranchising those who previously served time for felonies, ThinkProgress reports.

An organization in Louisiana filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of the almost 70,000 people there who have previously served time for felonies and are now on probation or parole, alleging that they are being “wrongfully excluded from registering to vote and voting.”