I didn’t hear Trent Franks’ remarks on the House abortion ban regarding exceptions for rape directly at first.  Instead, I saw the reaction on Twitter, and assumed that Franks had made some sort of absurd Todd Akin-like comment about the improbability of conception during rape.  Since these comments primarily came from Republicans and conservatives, I felt sure that we had another GOP officeholder.  A whole series of “OMG Republicans shut up about rape” and similar Twitter updates scrolled past my timeline.

So what did Trent Franks say that was sooo off the wall that Republicans should never debate a rape exception to abortion bans ever again?  This is what he said — in the context of a debate about a ban on abortions after the 20th week of gestation, emphasis mine:

“Before, when my friends on the left side of the aisle here tried to make rape and incest the subject- because you know the, the incidents of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low, but when you make that exception, there’s usually a requirement to report the rape within 48 hours.”

“And in this case, that’s impossible because this is in the sixth month of gestation, and that’s what completely negates and vitiates the purpose of such an amendment,” he added.

Franks wasn’t implying that women don’t get pregnant from what Whoopi Goldberg once called “rape rape,” as Akin did.  He was making the statistical point that incidents of pregnancy from rape are very low — both in terms of overall pregnancies and in terms of abortions. Furthermore, since the rape would be known immediately and the pregnancy not long afterward, the need to exercise that exception after 20 weeks should be very, very rare.

While Franks’ allies rushed to shut him up and the rest of the pro-abortion side out of the debate, Jonathan Chait wondered what all the fuss was, even while disagreeing with Franks:

It sounded like Akinism to a lot of liberals. The Huffington Post reported that the remarks “echo those made last year” by Akin. But this requires changing what Franks said in a crucial way. Slate reports the story in the headline “The GOP Is Talking About Rape and Its ‘Very Low’ Pregnancy Rate Again.” …

But Franks didn’t say the “rate” of pregnancy from rape is low. He said the “incidence” is low. He didn’t say it’s hard to get pregnant when you’re raped. He said rape-induced pregnancy doesn’t happen very often.

Is that claim, which is different than Akin’s, true? Well, there are about 30,000 pregnancies from rape a year. I’d say that’s a lot. I suppose that if you’re comparing it to the total number of abortions, a figure that’s 20 to 30 times larger, you could argue it isn’t so many. From Franks’s starting point, in which which abortion is murder, the United States allows massive murder of human beings on an unthinkable scale, next to which 30,000 annual pregnancies looms small. If (like me) you don’t share his view of abortion, that 30,000 pregnancies looms large.

In other words, it’s basic statistical analysis, nothing more.  Using Chait’s numbers on overall abortions, the percentage that a rape exception would allow would be about 10% of all abortion requests — which leaves 90% as elective abortions for the purpose of convenience.  And as Franks was trying to point out, after a 20 week period in which abortions would still be legal if this bill became law, the percentage of abortions under that exception should be much. much lower.

This is what a debate over abortion rights and limitations has to discuss.  I don’t recall any on the Right being as squeamish about using statistical analysis to point out during the gun-control debate that homicide victims by rifles of all kinds (“assault” or otherwise) constituted an exceedingly small percentage of homicides by firearms, even smaller than “personal weapons” of hands, feet, arms, legs, and presumably headbutts — less than half, actually. No one on our side felt compelled to tweet “OMG Republicans stop talking about homicides!!1!1!!”

Let’s quit ceding territory on vital debates simply because a couple of people have managed to make a hash out of it. That works a lot better than jumping to conclusions.  And kudos to Chait for intellectual honesty, too.