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Experts: GOP amended Franks’ abortion bill to distance itself from flap

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WASHINGTON – House Republicans tried to distance themselves from Rep. Trent Franks’ controversial comments over an abortion bill by quietly amending it to include language that the Glendale Republican had tried to block, experts said.

Franks caused a furor last week when he said that “estimates of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low” as he argued against a rape-or-incest exception to his bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks.

That Democrat-backed amendment was defeated and the bill passed by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, but not before Franks’ comments went viral on the Internet.

Just two days later, the Republican-controlled House Rules Committee added the exemption Friday for victims of rape or incest. The amended version of the bill is expected to come before the full House this week.

Franks’ office did not return requests for comment on the change Monday. But in an emotional floor speech Monday evening Franks addressed what he called the “distortions and bait-and-switch tactics” hurled at his bill by opponents.

“The act is truly and simply a deeply sincere effort to protect both mothers and their pain-capable unborn babies … from heartless monsters” like the Philadelphia doctor convicted this year of murder of babies in connect with botched abortions, Franks said.

Political observers called the Rules Committee action “purely a political move” in response to the “firestorm” of criticism over Franks’ comments.

Ruth Jones, a political science professor at Arizona State University, said the GOP is trying to prevent a repeat of the controversy that erupted over Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s statement that “legitimate rape” cannot result in pregnancy. The furor derailed Akin’s 2012 Senate campaign.

Kyle Kondik, with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, agreed that the change to the bill is probably a response to criticism over Franks’ remarks. Kondik said Republicans have struggled to articulate “their views on abortion in a way that doesn’t make them the target of ridicule.”

“I think that’s what Franks wasn’t able to avoid the other day,” he said.

Franks’ bill, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” bans abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy on the premise that a fetus can feel pain by then.

Franks said that his comment on rape was taken out of context. He said he only meant that the number of rape or incest victims getting an abortion after 20 weeks was “very low.”

But Planned Parenthood Arizona said in an emailed statement Monday that the Rules Committee amendment “is a cynical political attempt by House leadership to cover up the deeply ignorant and offensive views on women’s health expressed by the bill’s sponsor.”

David Hawkings, editor of the CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing, said the committee likely added the rape or incest exceptions in an attempt to get as many abortion opponents as possible to vote for the bill on the floor.

Hawkings thinks the bill will have enough votes to pass the House but will then stall in the Senate.

Despite the furor, Jones does not think the issue will affect Franks’ popularity among his constituents, who re-elected him with 63 percent of the vote in 2012.

“He’s a well-established and respected conservative Republican leader . . . I don’t think that’s going to hurt him politically in his district,” she said.