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.
Republicans have tried to pass Trump's most recent comments off as a joke because to accept the reality of that rhetoric would mean going to the core of their entire party platform and their strategies. The GOP would have to come to terms with the toll its power plays are taking on the country writ large.
This week, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump stated that, if Hillary Clinton were elected and able to nominate justices to the Supreme Court, “Second Amendment people” might be able to do something about it. After blaming the media for “being dishonest” in reporting his statement, the Trump campaign has since tried to pass the comment off as a joke. However characterized, Trump’s statement is not only part of his own election strategy, but also a strategy that has become synonymous with those of candidates, legislators, and groups affiliated with the positions of the GOP.
To me, the phrase “Second Amendment people” translates to those reflexively opposed to any regulation of gun sales and ownership and who feel they need guns to arm themselves against the government. I’m not alone: The comment was widely perceived as an implicit threat of violence against the Democratic presidential nominee. Yet, GOP party leaders have failed to condemn his comment, with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) agreeing with the Trump campaign that it was “a joke gone bad.”
Republicans have tried to pass it off as a joke because to accept the reality of their rhetoric would mean going to the core of their entire party platform and their strategies. The GOP would have to come to terms with the toll its power plays are taking on the country writ large. The rhetoric is part of a longer and increasingly dangerous effort by the GOP, aided by corporate-funded right-wing organizations and talk show hosts, to de-legitimize the federal government, undermine confidence in our voting system, play on the fears held by a segment of the population about tyranny and the loss of liberty, and intimidate people Republican leaders see as political enemies.
Ironically, while GOP candidates and leaders decry the random violence of terrorist groups like Daesh—itself an outgrowth of desperate circumstances, failed states, and a perceived or real loss of power—they are perpetuating the idea of loss and desperation in the United States and inciting others to random violence against political opponents.
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Trump’s “Second Amendment” comment came after a week of efforts by the Trump campaign to de-legitimize the 2016 presidential election well before a single vote has been cast. On Monday, August 1, after polls showed Trump losing ground, he asserted in an Ohio campaign speech that “I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest.”
Manufactured claims of widespread voter fraud—a problem that does not exist, as several analyses have shown—have nonetheless been repeatedly pushed by the GOP since the 2008 election. Using these disproven claims as support, GOP legislatures in 20 states have passed new voter restrictions since 2010, and still the GOP claims elections are suspect, stoking the fears of average voters seeking easy answers to complex problems and feeding the paranoia of separatist and white nationalist groups. Taking up arms against an illegitimate government is, after all, exactly what “Second Amendment remedies” are for.
Several days before Trump’s Ohio speech, Trump adviser Roger Stone suggested that the result of the election might be “illegitimate,” leading to “widespread civil disobedience” and a “bloodbath,” a term I personally find chilling.
Well before these comments were made, there was the hate-fest otherwise known as the Republican National Convention (RNC), during which both speakers and supporters variously called for Clinton to be imprisoned or shot, and during which New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a man not widely known for his high ethical standards or sense of accountability, led a mock trial of Hillary Clinton to chants from the crowd of “lock her up.” And that was the tame part.
The number of times Trump has called for or supported violence at his rallies is too long to catalogue here. His speeches are rife with threats to punch opponents; after the Democratic National Convention, he threatened to hit speakers who critiqued his policies “so hard their heads would spin.” He also famously promised to pay the legal fees of anyone who hurt protesters at his rallies and defended former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after allegations surfaced that Lewandowski had assaulted a female Breitbart reporter.
A recent New York Times video compiled over a year of reporting at Trump rallies revealed the degree to which many of Trump’s supporters unapologetically express violence and hatred—for women, immigrants, and people of color. And Trump eschews any responsibility for what has transpired, repeatedly claiming he does not condone violence—his own rhetoric, that of his associates, and other evidence notwithstanding.
Still, to focus only on Trump is to ignore a broader and deeper acceptance, even encouragement of, incitement to violence by the GOP that began long before the 2016 campaign.
In 2008, in what may appear to be a now forgotten but eerily prescient peek at the 2016 RNC, then-GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and his running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, used race-baiting and hints at violence to gin up their crowds. First, Palin accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” a claim that became part of her stump speech. As a result, Frank Rich then wrote in the New York Times:
Nothing was in fact done. No price was paid by GOP candidates encouraging this kind of behavior.
In 2009, during congressional debates on the Affordable Care Act, opponents of the health-care law, who’d been fed a steady diet of misleading and sensationalist information, were encouraged by conservative groups like FreedomWorks and Right Principles, as well as talk show hosts such as Sean Hannity, to disrupt town hall meetings on the legislation held throughout the country. Protesters turned up at some town hall meetings armed with rifles with the apparent intention of intimidating those who, in supporting health reform, disagreed with them. In some cases, what began as nasty verbal attacks turned violent. As the New York Times then reported: “[M]embers of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds. In several cities, noisy demonstrations have led to fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations.”
In 2010, as first reported by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle, in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), suggested that armed insurrection would be the answer if “this Congress keeps going the way it is.” In response to a request for clarification by the host of the radio show on which she made her comments, Angle said:
You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years.
I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.
Also in 2010, Palin, by then a failed vice-presidential candidate, created a map “targeting” congressional Democrats up for re-election, complete with crosshairs. Palin announced the map to her supporters with this exhortation: “Don’t retreat. Instead, reload!”
One of the congresspeople on that map was Arizona Democrat Gabby Giffords, who in the 2010 Congressional race was challenged by Jesse Kelly, a Palin-backed Tea Party candidate. Kelly’s campaign described an event this way:
Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.
Someone took this literally. In January 2011, Jared Lee Loughner went on a shooting rampage in a Tuscon grocery store at which Giffords was meeting with constituents. Loughner killed six people and injured 13 others, including Giffords who, as a result of permanent disability resulting from the shooting, resigned from Congress. Investigators later found that Loughner had for months become obsessed with government conspiracy theories such as those spread by GOP and Tea Party candidates.
These events didn’t stop GOP candidates from fear-mongering and suggesting “remedies.” To the contrary, the goading continued. As the Huffington Post‘s Sam Stein wrote in 2011:
Florida Senate candidate Mike McCalister, who is running against incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), offered a variation of the much-lampooned line during a speech before the Palms West Republican Club earlier this week.
“I get asked sometimes where do I stand on the Second and 10th Amendment, and I have a little saying,” he declared. “We need a sign at every harbor, every airport and every road entering our state: ‘You’re entering a 10th Amendment-owned and -operated state, and justice will be served with the Second Amendment.’” [Emphasis added.]
These kinds of threats by the GOP against other legislators and even the president have goneunpunished by the leadership of the party. Not a word has come from either House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decrying these statements, and the hyperbole and threats have only continued. Recently, for example, former Illinois GOP Congressman Joe Walsh tweeted and then deleted this threat to the president after the killing of five police officers in Dallas, Texas:
“3 Dallas cops killed, 7 wounded,” former congressman Joe Walsh, an Illinois Republican, wrote just before midnight in a tweet that is no longer on his profile. “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”
Even after the outcry over his recent remarks, Trump has escalated the rhetoric against both President Obama and against Clinton, calling them the “founders of ISIS.” And again no word from the GOP leadership.
This rhetoric is part of a pattern used by the right wing within and outside elections. Anti-choice groups, for example, consistently misrepresent reproductive health care writ large, and abortion specifically. They “target” providers with public lists of names, addresses, and other personal information. They lie, intimidate, and make efforts to both vilify and stigmatize doctors. When this leads to violence, as David Cohen wrote in Rolling Stone this week, the anti-choice groups—and their GOP supporters—shrug off any responsibility.
Some gun rights groups also use this tactic of intimidation and targeting to silence critique. In 2011, for example, 40 men armed with semi-automatic weapons and other guns surrounded a restaurant in Arlington, Texas, in which a mothers’ group had gathered to discuss gun regulations. “Second Amendment people” have spit upon women arguing for gun regulation and threatened them with rape. In one case, a member of these groups waited in the dark at the home of an advocate and then sought to intimidate her as she approached in her wheelchair.
The growing resort to violence and intimidation in our country is a product of an environment in which leading politicians not only look the other way as their constituents and affiliated groups use such tactics to press a political point, but in which the leaders themselves are complicit.
These are dangerous games being played by a major political party in its own quest for power. Whether or not Donald Trump is the most recent and most bombastic evidence of what has become of the GOP, it is the leadership and the elected officials of the party who are condoning and perpetuating an environment in which insinuations of violence will increasingly lead to acts of violence. The more that the right uses and suggests violence as a method of capturing, consolidating, and holding power, the more they become like the very terrorists they claim to be against.
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.