Milbank: For congressional GOP, abortion debate a man's world

By Dana Milbank, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

Published:

 

Ladies and gentlemen, Republicans are again voting on new abortion restrictions. The House Judiciary Committee gathered Wednesday to pass another anti-abortion bill, and the nameplates on the majority side told the story:

Mr. Goodlatte.

Mr. Sensenbrenner.

Mr. Coble.

Mr. Smith.

Mr. Chabot.

Mr. Bachus.

Mr. Issa.

Mr. Forbes.

Mr. King.

Mr. Franks.

In all, the nameplates of 23 misters lined both rows on the GOP side; there isn't one Republican woman on the panel. The guys muscled through a bill that would upend Roe v. Wade by effectively banning all abortions after 20 weeks.

The manly men voted down a Democratic effort to add enhanced protections for the life and health of the mother. They voted down a Democratic amendment that would allow exceptions for women with heart or lung disease or diabetes. They even voted down an amendment that would have made exceptions for victims of rape or incest. If that weren't enough, the chief sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., had a Todd Akin moment as he attempted to argue that women aren't likely to become pregnant from rape. Franks provided his variation of "legitimate rape" theory when he argued against the rape-and-incest exception because the amendment didn't require women to report the crime.

"What difference does that make?" asked Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. "The point I was trying to make, Mr. Nadler, is that, you know, before when my friends on the left side of the aisle here tried to make rape and incest the subject, because, you know, the incidents of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low," he said. "But when you make that exception, there's usually a requirement to report the rape within 48 hours."

Hold on. The incidents of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low? "I just find it astonishing to hear a phrase repeated that the incidence of pregnancy from rape is low," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, one of five Democratic women on the panel. "There's no scientific basis for that. 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."

Even before the hearing, Democrats were talking about the legislation as evidence that the GOP had returned to its "war on women," a favorite Democratic theme to widen the party's advantage among female voters. But if this really is a war, women have nothing to worry about: These Republicans can't shoot straight.

'Too immoral or too stupid'

The legislation, even if it clears the House, has no chance in the Senate and would face a certain veto. And yet House Republicans pressed ahead. "This looks like just another battle in the Republican war on women," Nadler observed, saying the majority thinks women are "too immoral or too stupid" to make their own choices.

To counter this argument, Franks invoked Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion doctor who was convicted last month of murdering babies. But Gosnell was convicted under existing law and therefore didn't help Franks rebut the war-on-women charges.

Lofgren told the story of a woman whose pregnancy was putting her life at risk. "The idea that we would force somebody like Vicki to endanger her own life -- the Republican men on this committee think they have the right to do that," she said.

The men easily defeated the rape-and-incest exception. But when it came time to vote on an exception for a mother's health, there were 11 Democrats in the room and only 10 Republicans. "It is good for everybody to have lunch, so we will stand in recess," announced the chairman, Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. "Can we vote on this amendment, please?" asked Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, the sponsor.

"We will vote on it when we return," Goodlatte said. The Republicans needed more manpower.