What could legal abortion access for women who live in the District of Columbia, the high-profile trial of a Philadelphia-area abortion doctor, and a Congressman from Arizona all have in common?
Logically, not much at all. But Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) wants to connect the dots anyway. The Republican politician is planning to revive his previous efforts to legislate abortion care in the nation’s capital city — pushing to outlaw abortion services in DC after 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on the scientifically disputed notion that fetuses can feel pain after that point — because he believes “it would keep attention on the Gosnell case.”
Last week, the right-wing media successfully stoked outrage over the ongoing criminal case against Kermit Gosnell, who allegedly performed incredibly late-term, illegal abortions for economically disadvantaged women in Philadelphia. Gosnell’s story exploded into the mainstream media just recently, but this isn’t the first time that abortion opponents have attempted to leverage it to advance their agenda. In 2011, anti-abortion lobbyists invoked Gosnell to pressure the Pennsylvania legislature to approve unnecessary new restrictions for abortion clinics, which ultimately forced nine of the state’s 22 abortion providers to close their doors.
Over-regulating abortion clinics is a popular anti-choice tactic that is currently advancing in at least seven states across the country. But Franks isn’t necessary interested in taking that route. “Sanitizing the clinic is not going to change the suffering and agony of what children go through,” he explained to the Hill. The Arizona lawmaker said that he and his colleagues are actually focused on ending legal abortion services altogether.
As a small step toward that ultimate goal, Franks is hoping to use the Gosnell trial to push a 20-week “fetal pain” ban for DC residents, which failed in the House last year. Franks’ previous efforts to restrict abortion access for people who aren’t in his own district have angered DC residents, who stormed his office last May to protest his overreach. Abortion access is just one of many ways that Republicans often attempt to legislate the Washington, DC area that they do not represent.
Franks’ effort to translate Gosnell’s case into a “fetal pain” ban would, ironically, have exactly the opposite of its intended effect. Bans on late-term abortions disproportionately hurt low-income women, who often have to delay having an abortion until they can save up enough money to pay for it. Rather than protecting women from the criminal activities that went on in Gosnell’s “house of horrors,” outlawing abortions after 20 weeks could actually lead more desperate, disadvantaged women to seek out illegal doctors like Gosnell.