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Washington Post Fact Checker Retracts 'Pinocchios' for Trent Franks

2:37 PM, Jun 14, 2013 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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The Washington Post fact checker wrote in an update this afternoon that he has retracted the "Four Pinocchios" rating he gave to Trent Franks's statement that the "incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low." The Post's Glenn Kessler writes (emphasis added): 

Update, June 7: Ben Carnes, communications director for Franks, says that Franks mispoke and intended to refer to the number of abortions due to rape. We had originally awarded Four Pinocchios for Franks’ statement, but in light of the clarification, we have removed the rating from this column. We don’t try to play gotcha here, and might not have written a column if Carnes had responded to our initial inquiry. In any case, given that some readers interpreted Franks’s statement differently, it no longer appears appropriate to have a rating.

The unjustified rating was due in part to the ambiguity of the word "incidence." As Dave Weigel and Jonathan Chait pointed out, some reporters wrongly assumed it means "rate."

But according to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, incidence can mean both "occurrence" and "rate of occurrence."

So was Franks simply saying that the "occurrence" or number of abortions in the case of rape was small as a percentage of total abortions (which is true), or was he making the unscientific, Akin-esque claim that the rate of pregnancy is lower for forced sex than consensual sex (which is false)? 

Kessler assumed the latter in his original column: "Franks raises an interesting issue: What is the incidence of pregnancy after a rape? And is it much lower than rate of pregnancy after consensual sex?"

But Franks never made the comparison between the rate of pregnancy resulting from rape and the rate of pregnancy resulting from consensual sex. So there was no reason to assume that's what he was saying. Good on Kessler for being open to listening to new arguments and facts and updating his post accordingly.

One final note: a number of reporters have claimed that Franks justified his opposition to the exception because the number of abortions in the case of rape is a small percentage of all abortions (less than 1 percent). In fact, that was not Franks's justification.  Franks said he opposed the amendment because 20 weeks into pregnancy and beyond a child is very developed. "The fundamental opposition here should be predicated on the notion that this child is going into the 6th month of pregnancy," Franks said. At that point in pregnancy, a baby can feel physical pain and some can survive if born. After all, when babies can survive birth, it's possible to "terminate" a pregnancy without killing a child (by delivering her).

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