When a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks goes to the House floor this week for a vote, the Republican lawmaker who authored that legislation—Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona—will not be leading the charge. Instead, he’ll be replaced by a high profile Republican woman, Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
The face at the front of the bill was not the only change quietly made to the legislation. On Friday, Republicans also added an amendment that would make exceptions in cases of rape or incest. “They’re running scared here,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, in an interview Monday with msnbc.
Rep. Franks found himself at the center of a firestorm last week when he argued against such an amendment before a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. “Before, when my friends on the left side of the aisle here tried to make rape and incest the subject—because, you know, the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low,” Rep. Franks said during that hearing. Franks' office later issued a statement seeking to clarify his remarks: “Pregnancies from rape that result in abortion after the beginning of the sixth month are very rare. This bill does not address unborn children in earlier gestations.”
A dozen states currently have laws on the books that ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, said Norton. Just three years ago, there was not a single such law in any state. Norton said the efforts underway in Republican-led legislatures across the country, and in the Republican-led House, have a shared goal: “They’re now trying to limit or essentially overturn Roe v. Wade,” she said.
Federal law currently sets the threshold at 24 weeks of pregnancy. Norton argues the Republican rank and file may be missing the larger point--one that hasn’t gone unnoticed by their leadership. “The leadership saw that by fooling with women and their reproductive health, they helped elect a president of the United States last year,” she said.
Even with a new face and a new amendment, the controversial provisions at the heart of Frank’s bill remain intact. It would still require a woman to prove she has reported her rape before she can end her pregnancy. The bill does not include a provision allowing abortion for so-called "medially futile pregnancies," in which the fetus has essentially no chance to survive.
Even if Franks’ bill does pass this week’s vote in the Republican-led House, it won't through the Democratic Senate. So when the vote is said and done, the House GOP will likely have succeeded in doing little else than making a largely symbolic overture, and refueling speculation of a Republican war on women’s reproductive rights.