Republicans color the abortion debate
Rep. Trent Franks established his credentials as a civil rights leader last year when the Arizona Republican argued that, because of high abortion rates in black communities, African Americans were better off under slavery.
But the congressman doesn’t just talk the talk. On Tuesday, he chaired a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on legislation he is introducing that would protect African American women from themselves — by making it harder for them to have abortions.
“In 1847, Frederick Douglass said, ‘Right is of no sex, truth is of no color, God is the father of us all and all are brethren,’ ” Franks proclaimed as he announced what he calls the “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2011.”
Drawing a line from the Civil War to the suffragist movement to defeating Hitler to the civil rights era, Franks determined that “there is one glaring exception” in the march toward equality. “Forty to 50 percent of all African American babies, virtually one in two, are killed before they are born,” he said. “This is the greatest cause of death for the African Americans.” Franks called the anti-abortion fight “the civil rights struggle that will define our generation.”
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who, unlike Franks, is African American and a veteran of the civil rights movement, took a different historical view. “I’ve studied Frederick Douglass more than you,” said Conyers. “I’ve never heard or read him say anything about prenatal nondiscrimination.”
Orwellian naming aside, the House Republicans’ civil rights gambit (which follows passage of a similar bill in Franks’s Arizona and marks an attempt to get an abortion bill to the House floor before year’s end) points to an interesting tactic among conservatives: They have taken on a new, and somewhat suspect, interest in the poor and in the non-white. To justify their social policies, they have stolen the language of victimization from the left. In other words, they are practicing the same identity politics they have long decried.
Newt Gingrich, now threatening Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination, tried a similar argument when he argued for the elimination of “truly stupid” child labor laws and suggested that students could replace the janitors in their schools. He further explained that he was trying to help children in poor neighborhoods who have “no habits of working.”