The Republican Party's attempt at rebranding itself on women's issues took a step backward Wednesday when Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., dismissed the need give rape victims access to abortions after 20 weeks.
"The incidence of pregnancy resulting from rape is very low," Franks said during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on his legislation.
The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act passed without any exceptions for victims of rape or incest by a vote of 20 to 12 Wednesday, along mostly party lines.
Before the hearing was even over, Democratic campaign groups jumped at the opportunity to call Republicans out for their abortion-restricting bill, a topic that helped them win loads of political support and mobilized women in 2012.
"The Republican assault on women's rights and opportunities never seems to end," Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY's List, a group that advocates for pro-choice Democratic candidates said in a released statement. "They're supporting the same anti-woman policies that led voters to reject them during the last election, and trying to rebrand themselves with the hope that nobody will notice. But the truth is that Republicans can't fix their sales pitch if they have nothing to sell."
Franks' comment, which he says was meant to point out that most rape victims seek abortions before 20 weeks, evoked the memory of past elections where GOP candidates reeled off a number of rape-related gaffes.
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake cannot believe Republicans keep engaging in the abortion debate.
"It's not like the country has a shortage of problems to address," she says. "For Democrats, it's the gift that keeps on giving."
The GOP focus on reproductive health plays right into the Democratic strategy for taking back the House in 2014. Democrats view suburban pockets outside of New York, Philadelphia and Denver, where high volumes of educated women reside, as the most winnable districts for them.
And those women, polls show, are sympathetic to abortion restriction exceptions for those who are victims of rape, as well as instances of late-term abortions. Women are also more likely than men to prioritize abortion as a top issue and prefer Democrats to Republicans by 20 points, according to a Pew Research poll.
"The issue of the war on women is a winning issue for us," a source from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) said on the condition of anonymity. "Every time you turn around, the Republicans in the House are doing something to take us back to the Stone Age, when voters actually want Congress to solve our problems."
Wednesday, the DCCC wasted no time mobilizing a campaign to put pressure on suburban lawmakers like Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., and 10 others who are vulnerable in 2014.
During the 2012 cycle, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., secured her re-election after her conservative opponent, former Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., said that women's bodies had a way of shutting down to protect to body in cases of rape.
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., won his seat after Republican candidate Richard Mourdock said that "even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen."
The latest round of this issue is expected to gain steam next week. House leadership has promised to give Franks time on the floor to further debate his bill.
"It is a little shocking how tone deaf those members of Congress and those in states who continue to push for restrictions on women's reproductive health are," says Andrea Friedman, the director of reproductive health programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families, a non-profit group that advocates for a woman's right to choose. "This speaks to the strength of a small minority who absolutely will not relent."