When Trent Franks was about 20 years old, a movie changed his life.
“It showed a child in the throes of dying from a saline abortion,” the Arizona Republican congressman recalls in an interview. “The child’s skin had been burned off. And it was so poignant and so powerful to me that it made an indelible imprint on my heart forever.”
Franks had been pro-life before seeing the movie, but watching it made him resolve to commit more deeply to the work of preventing abortions.
Franks is the sponsor behind the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which passed the House yesterday and would ban abortions beginning at the sixth month of gestation. Its passage, Franks observes, marks “the first time in either chamber in the United States Congress that we’ve given affirmative protection to unborn children in the history of the United States.”
In House Judiciary Committee hearings for the legislation last week, Franks ignited a media firestorm when he said, “The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.” (Sample headline from the Atlantic Wire: “Trent Franks Is the New Todd Akin.”) Looking back, Franks regrets his “inartful” phrasing.
“My intent was to express that pregnancies from rape rarely end up in an abortion after the sixth month,” Franks explains. “And my bill doesn’t affect anything prior to that.”
What did he think of Akin’s comment last year that “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”? Franks declines to criticize his former colleague. “I think we always need to look at the person’s heart and what their intent was,” he says, “and I guess I hope that I would do that for Todd Akin or whoever it was in the hope that I would be afforded the same courtesy.”
Franks understands that the legislation will almost certainly not become law this session. But he holds out hope that it will make it to the Senate floor. “If Harry Reid somehow had an open moment and he just looked at the situation for what it was . . . and you know, stranger things have happened,” he muses.
“Once in a while, a person finds his humanity in a way that astounds his contemporaries,” Franks adds. “And if it did happen, I think a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate today would be very close. This might actually pass.”
Franks doesn’t even flirt with imagining that President Obama would sign it, though. “Mr. Obama would probably veto the bill, just like Mr. Clinton vetoed the partial-birth-abortion bill,” he says. But Franks is taking the long view: “Of course when the presidency changed, that was one of the first things signed.”
He realizes that compromise on the issue, though possible, won’t be easy. “Maybe people won’t come to where I am, but I’m convinced that we can come together in an amazing way on this,” Franks says. “And it is a rough road. Certainly was in the days of slavery. We ended up shooting each other to ribbons.”
Franks sees the revelations about Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortionist who murdered children after they had been born and who caused the death of at least one woman, as crucial to his case for banning late-term abortions. If the public were to remain unmoved by Gosnell’s crimes, he fears it would mean that “mankind has shown a real tragic ability to harden itself to almost anything.”
But he’s hopeful that the Gosnell case has led people to reconsider what makes a person a person. He points out that what Gosnell did would be legal in some states if the child had still been in the womb, regardless of the child’s advanced developmental stage. “Since when does moving a few inches or changing your residence change your status as a human being?” Franks asks.
He is also concerned about the health of women seeking late-term abortions. “It protects both babies and mothers from monsters like Kermit Gosnell,” he says of his legislation.
Frank’s pro-life advocacy began long before Gosnell’s actions were revealed. “Trent Franks is an extraordinarily effective, courageous, and compassionate defender of the weakest and most vulnerable,” says Representative Chris Smith (R., N.J.), another stalwart pro-life politician. “His landmark legislation to protect baby girls from sex-selection abortion and his authorship of a bill to safeguard pain-capable unborn babies from abortion will ultimately save many precious lives. No one [in the House] has done more for the unborn and their mothers than Trent. No one.”