House Republican leaders are hoping to head off a repeat of last week's controversy over the issue of whether there should be an exception for cases of rape and incest in a GOP sponsored bill banning late term abortions by adding that exception before the House debates the measure on Tuesday.
Republican members on the House Judiciary committee, which marked up the abortion bill last week, voted down a Democratic amendment to allow women who are raped to obtain an abortion beyond 22 weeks into a pregnancy. But House GOP leaders decided to add a slightly different exception to the bill after several GOP members expressed concerns about the issue, according to two House Republican leadership aides. The new language permits an exception for those women who get pregnant through rape or incest to obtain an abortion if they report the crime to the authorities first.
Last week the late term abortion bill's sponsor, Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks, ignited a controversy when he argued against any exception for rape being added to the bill. During the Judiciary panel's markup on the bill Franks said "the incidents of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low."
Rep Zoe Lofgren, D-California, a member of the Judiciary committee, immediately pushed back, arguing, "there's no scientific basis for that. And the idea that the Republican men on this committee can tell the women of America that they have to carry to term the product of a rape is outrageous."
Franks later acknowledged his comments opened the door to the discussion of rape and abortion, a topic that caused backlash in the run up to the 2012 election when then GOP Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin said the female body could prevent pregnancy during cases of "legitimate rape."
But Franks stood by his comments, and told reporters he was discussing the rare instances of abortions in the six month of pregnancy from women who are raped.
Democrats were quick to point out that there are no female GOP members on the Judiciary panel. Mindful of the optics of another abortion debate--this time on the House floor--dominated by men, House GOP leaders tapped Tennessee Republican Rep Marsha Blackburn to manage the debate on the House floor instead of Franks. Blackburn co-sponsored the bill and is close to GOP leaders and has been critical about the need for the party to include more female voices. One GOP aide told CNN that leaders are encouraging Republican women who support the measure to participate in the floor debate on Tuesday.
It's doubtful that the procedural move to add the rape exception to the bill will stifle House Democrats' spotlight on the issue. House Democratic leaders have repeatedly emphasized that the measure, which is unlikely to go anywhere in the Democratic-led Senate, was scheduled for a vote while Americans would rather see action on items focused on the struggling economy. They believe independent voters, who could be a pivotal block in the next election, will be turned off by the focus on a controversial social issue.