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Republicans claim science on their side in abortion wars


The Republican lawmaker now leading the charge on a bill that bans abortions at 20 weeks after fertilization insists her party has both sentiment and science in its corner of the legislative ring.

“What we’re saying is science is on our side on this; public opinion is on our side on this,” said Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee in an interview Tuesday on msnbc.

Blackburn took over the reins of H.R. 1797, otherwise called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, from its primary author, Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona. Franks was sidelined last week after arguing against an amendment that would allow for exceptions in the cases of rape and incest. During a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Franks claimed that the incidents of pregnancy resulting from rape were “very low.”

Blackburn had little to say Tuesday about why she, and not Franks, would be heading up the floor debate: “Representative Franks has apologized for his comments and the bill has been amended,” said Blackburn. “That was the appropriate step to take.”

Adding additional burden to the victims of rape and incest, the bill only allows for exceptions when those crimes are reported to authorities. An estimated 54% of sexual assaults go unreported each year, according to RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization. Yet Rep. Blackburn argued Tuesday that the reporting requirement’s aim is to go after the offenders: “The hope is that will help get some of the perpetrators out of the population.”

Related: GOP Rep. Franks: There’s a ‘very low’ pregnancy rate from rape

This renewed push for abortion restrictions came about after the case of Kermit Gosnell, who is serving a life sentence in prison for the murder of three babies delivered alive at his Pennsylvania abortion clinic. The bill includes language claiming a fetus can respond to touch at 8 weeks of gestation and pain at 20 weeks—a theory widely disputed in the medical community.

“What we are seeking to do is fight the Kermit Gosnells,” said Blackburn. “When a baby feels pain you should not carry out that abortion.”

The American Medical Association doesn’t seem to agree with the scientific claims presented in Frank’s bill. According to the A.M.A., evidence that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks is limited, and fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.

Irin Carmon, writer for Salon and visiting fellow at Yale Law’s Program for the Study of Reproductive Science, suggested Republicans are molding the evidence to suit their case.

“This is totally not grounded in science,” said Carmon, who is joining msnbc.com, said on the network Tuesday.  “Unfortunately we know that House Republicans, from which Todd Akin came, are not great respecters of science. However they’re trying to create their own reality, their own science, stigmatize women who get later abortions, and maybe earn a political victory.”

Republicans claim science on their side in abortion wars