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The House GOP – you know, those folks who just a few months ago were wondering how to attract younger women back to their party – are once again trying to push the Roe v. Wade envelope. Today they plan  to introduce a bill, HR 1797, that would prohibit abortion after twenty months weeks, citing spurious, junk-science claims of fetal pain as justification to change the cut-off point beyond which abortion should be outlawed. The intellectual level underlying this proposed legislation is suggested by the statement of its main sponsor, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), who initially refused even to include an exception for victims of rape or incest, declaring that “the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.”

A Todd Akin moment? The House leaders must have thought so since a provision for the exception was added and a woman, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), was trotted out to manage the bill on the floor – and presumably to ameliorate the damage done by Frank’s gaffe. The hope seems to be that the female public will only notice Blackburn’s gender, not her strident anti-choice, anti-woman positions. And, indeed, she has refined the rhetoric, declaring that: “we are incredibly concerned about the well-being, safety, the health of these women. The life of women. And these babies. That is why we are doing this.”

Seems like the strategy here mirrors that of the GOP in Missouri when they managed to replace Todd Akin with Rep. Ann Wagner (R-2). But while the rhetoric has softened, just as with Blackburn and Franks, the substance remains the same. Akin was certainly verbally maladroit, but his real sin was making the assumption that his personal, religious beliefs took precedence over the beliefs of others. A corollary sin was his willingness to cite bad science and ignore overwhelming contrary evidence to justify imposing his beliefs on others – a sin that is magnified many times over in this bill which is based on discredited claims of fetal pain.

How will Wagner vote? Do you have any doubt that she will go the Akin route? She’s on the record in regard to her anti-choice beliefs. Recently, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade she declared that she was “‘heartbroken’ by all the lives that have been devastated by abortion,” and added that the Supreme Court decision “has done so much harm to the moral landscape of our nation.” As far as the GOP “war on women” goes, Wagner is by any definition a true-blue soldier:

… She was among 138 House Republicans who voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women’s Act before it was signed into law. She questioned its constitutionality and said she worried it could lead to more abortions [emphasis added].

Todd Akin asserted that women’s bodies could distinguish between rape and consensual intercourse and “shut-down” in the former case; if Wagner votes for HR 1797, she will be endorsing equally false – and often silly – claims about fetal pain – and using them to deny choice to other women. An exception for rape and incest victims is all well and good, but it does not take make it okay to take away a woman’s ability to control her own body and health decisions.

Wagner can join Blackburn and whine all she wants about how she is motivated by concern for women and children, but until she can tell me how her smarmy, feel-good words and empty protestations of concern help women like Beatriz from El Salvador, Savita Halappanavar in Ireland and Dana Weinstein in the U.S., women whose pregnancies not only threatened their lives, but in the case of Halappanaver, resulted in death, I will refuse to agree that she is an improvement on poor, sad, stupid Todd Akin.

ADDENDUM: In case you doubt that Blackburn, the gentler face of the GOP, is as bad as Franks and Akin, here she is today defending the indefensible HR 1797:

Blackburn went on to defend the reporting requirements in the legislation, arguing, “[T]he hope is that that will help with getting some of the perpetrators [i.e. rapists] out of the population that are committing these crimes against women and against minor females. We certainly would hope that we could rid our society of these perpetrators.”

In other words, the Tennessee Republican thinks her bill will reduce rapes. When Melvin asked, “How do you fight rapists with an abortion bill?” Blackburn changed the subject.

She went on to say, three times, “Science is on our side on this.” The American Medical Association disagrees. Blackburn added that “80 percent” of American women support her bill, but there is no poll that supports this argument.