Back to the Poisoned Well

There have been two incidents today displaying the inability of Republican solons to steer clear of deeply offensive positions and postures in their ongoing effort to engineer an anti-choice revolution.

First up, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), the prime sponsor of a national post-20-weeks abortion ban the House leadership has agreed to push to the floor, drifted quite near the Akin Line in a Judiciary Committee debate of a Democratic amendment creating an exception for rape and incest victims. “The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low,” he opined.

Why would Franks come even close to this kind of comment? That’s easy: rejecting rape/incest exceptions is how one proves true fidelity to the anti-choice cause, since by that movement’s logic, the origins of a pregnancy have nothing to do with the immorality of abortion. Once a woman’s circumstances–other than a documented peril to her own life–are ruled out, then making any exceptions is intolerable. But since, on the other hand, most non-RTLers are instinctively horrified by the idea of the state forcing a rape victim to carry a pregnancy to term, there’s a constant temptation to minimize its frequency. That’s a bit ironic since the bill in question involves a very small number of abortions in the first place, but since late-term abortion bans are intended to serve as an opening wedge aimed ultimately at a total ban, anti-choicers want to keep their lines straight before moving prohibitions into the earlier stages of pregnancy.

Franks didn’t quite cross the Akin Line because he didn’t suggest many reported rapes weren’t “legitimate,” but in the context of a debate that can be described as a large unforced error by the GOP (insofar as the bill is doomed to defeat in the Senate), he’s clearly playing with fire.

Meanwhile, up in Wisconsin, Republicans are trying to rush through a package of ant-choice legislation that includes a universal pre-abortion ultrasound requirement. Gov. Scott Walker says he can’t understand why anyone would have a problem with that. He and his comrades are inviting, of course, the kind of debate over transvaginal ultrasounds–necessary in most early-term abortions if there’s going to be an ultrasound at all–that blew up on Virginia Republicans just last year.

In other words, Walker, like Franks, just can’t pull off efforts to make anti-choice legislation sound reasonable though poll-tested “incremental” steps that seek to disguise the ultimate goal. It makes you wonder why they don’t just await the judicial and legislative circumstances in which they can come right out and ban abortions generally. But the anti-choice movement never sleeps, and the pressure it places on Republican politicians is unrelenting, forcing them back to the same poisoned well of ill-intentioned if feckless activity.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.