Members of Congress Need Sex Ed

Rep. Trent Franks is the latest to show that the GOP badly needs a lesson in where babies come from.

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Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., speaks Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010, at an election night party in Phoenix.

Forget about literacy tests for voters. What we need is sex education for members of Congress.

Literacy tests, of course, were just tools to keep African-Americans from voting in the South, and were eliminated under the civil rights and voting rights legislation of the mid-1960s. True democracy requires that virtually everyone be allowed to have a say in who will represent the nation's interests in government.

But the standards for people who actually serve in elected office ought to be a lot higher. At the very least, members of the United States Congress ought to understand where babies come from.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

At a House committee meeting to pass a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican, brushed aside concerns about a woman being forced to carry a pregnancy resulting from rape, saying the chances of that are "very low." Franks was talking about how a rape-and-incest exception was irrelevant, since the amendment wouldn't require female victims to report a rape within 48 hours. "What difference does that make?" asked Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat. Explained Franks:

The point I was trying to make, Mr. Nadler, is that, you know, before my friends on the left side of the aisle here tried to make rape and incest the subject, because, you know, 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.

You'd think the GOP would have put the metaphorical equivalent of a chastity belt on its members when it comes to talking about rape. The party lost the chance to win two Senate seats last year because of the ill-informed, judgmental and anti-female remarks made by Republican candidates. One, Missourian Todd Akin, said that pregnancy doesn't happen in cases of "legitimate rape," since a woman's body has a way of "shutting that whole thing down" in cases of nonconsensual sex. And Richard Mourdock of Indiana said a pregnancy from a rape was a gift from God. If Republicans want to keep alienating female voters, they're on the right track.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

But what's more disturbing is the appalling lack of knowledge about sex and procreation. How could an adult man, especially someone tasked with such decisions as whether to declare war and how to apportion scarce federal resources, be so ignorant about reproduction? Or is the contempt for women so deep that some lawmakers have to convince themselves that only a liar or a whore would want or need an abortion?

And why was the committee bothering with the amendment at all? It wouldn't pass the Senate, and President Obama would surely veto it. The abortion ban was just another of a series of useless votes meant to make a political statement and to build the anti-abortion voting records of the GOP caucus. It's a stunning misuse of precious study time on the Hill.

Lawmakers of late have complained that they didn't know about some of the classified information about surveillance that has emerged recently in the press. In fact, members have varying degrees of opportunity to learn those very things, if they make the effort. They can read (without staff or electronic devices with them) the classified versions of the  intelligence authorization and appropriations bills, which presumably give some clues about what intelligence agencies are doing. So instead of holding theatrical hearings and show-votes on amendments that are going nowhere, lawmakers might want to spend some time attending classified briefings and reading the classified legislation. And some of them might first want to carve out some time for a remedial seventh-grade health class.