Trent Franks Abortion: The GOP Keeps Finding Ways to Shoot Itself in the Foot On Women's Rights

Wednesday, the day after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down an Arizona law that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) announced plans to reintroduce a bill to challenge Roe v. Wade and establish a nationwide restriction on women’s abortion rights. Franks has enlisted a group of fellow representatives to speak in support of the bill. Of these supporters only one, Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.), is a woman.

The problem with Franks’ initiative is twofold. First, the bill itself is flawed. Franks cites the recent case of illegal abortion provider Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia as justification for the bill. However, these restrictive laws, although they may dissuade some women from abortion, will only push more women to subject themselves to dangerous off-the-books procedures. This policy would also endanger women’s rights to abortions as established by the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which established a women’s constitutional right to an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy.

A recent poll shows that for the first time, a majority of adults say that abortion should be legal always or most of the time. Bill McIntruff, who conducted the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, suggests that rhetoric from lawmakers such as Franks and controversial remarks on abortion and rape by two Republican senate candidates in 2012 may have had an effect.

Roe v. Wade was also cited in Idaho and Georgia where similar legislation was blocked. These “fetal pain” laws are based on the notion that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks. An NBC News report disputes this finding, citing a University of California study that presented data indicating that fetuses are incapable of feeling pain until around the 28th week.   

A second set of problems with Rep. Franks’ proposal is that the manner in which he is approaching the issue is flawed and adds to the narrative of an increasingly disconnected GOP. By inviting only one woman and eight men to speak in support of his bill, the panel is drawing comparisons to a similar panel last February in which House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) held an all-male discussion on the issue of women’s access to birth control and did not invite any women to testify before a hearing on birth-control regulation.

With only 18.3% of Congress made up of women, neither party can be said to sufficiently represent women and minorities. However, for the first time the majority of Democratic members of this Congress are not white men. However, the Republican members of Congress are 89% white men.

If Franks and his Republican colleagues would like to advance women’s-rights legislation, it would be wise of them to advance conservative causes with female support rather than legislation such as the “fetal pain” laws that stand no chance of passing in Congress and make the party increasingly unpopular.