James Bopp

Right-Wing Republican Platform Committee Affirms Opposition to LGBT Equality

We noted yesterday that Religious Right leaders had spent months making sure that the Republican platform committee would be stacked with “strong conservative voices” in order to resist an organized effort by pro-equality Republicans to replace anti-gay language in 2012’s far-right platform with something more inclusive. Yesterday’s platform committee session made it clear that the Right Wing was successful, as efforts to amend the draft platform language were repeatedly batted down.

Instead the committee affirmed the party’s support for marriage only for one man and one woman. The platform specifically rejects the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling and calls for its reversal “whether through judicial reconsideration or a constitutional amendment returning control over marriage to the states.”

A delegate from D.C., Rachel Hoff, identified herself as the first openly gay member of the platform committee and joked that as she hadn’t been raised in a Republican family, she wasn’t “born this way” and chose to be a Republican. But her colleagues were unmoved by her heartfelt plea for a more inclusive platform and rejected language that would have encouraged a “thoughtful conversation” and  recognized the growing support among Republicans for marriage equality (a 2014 Pew poll found more than 60-percent support for marriage equality among Republicans under 30).

There were a few libertarian-leaning voices on the committee, and they tended to appear younger than the average member, but they were out-gunned on LGBT issues as well as challenges to drug war orthodoxy and support for medicinal marijuana. Perhaps in deference to the twice-divorced and thrice-married Donald Trump, platform committee members did vote down an amendment condemning no-fault divorce. The committee voted to keep in language calling on government officials to encourage schools to teach the Bible as literature.

Some of the debate was spirited even if the results were ultimately one-sided. When a conservative delegate proposed inserting “traditional” before “two-parent families” in a section about what is best for children, a couple of delegates called it an extra slap in the face to LGBT people and an insult to single parents, but the amendment passed. When a New York delegate challenged language supporting the First Amendment Defense Act — a federal bill to give legal protection to anti-LGBT discrimination — a Virginia delegate accused her of calling the bill’s supporters bigots, language she had not used.

Among the members of the committee who have worked to make sure the platform keeps the party’s social conservatives happy: the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins; discredited Christian-nation “historian” David Barton; former Texas Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar; Eagle Forum political chair Sandy McDade; right-wing attorney James Bopp; and Center for Arizona Policy founder Len Munsil.

Munsil, who now heads Arizona Christian University, gave the prayer to open today’s platform committee session, which began a little after 8 a.m. with a discussion of the platform’s economic policy section. Munsil’s prayer had echoes of the Christian-nation rhetoric of activists like Barton and David Lane; he referenced the Mayflower Compact, said God has blessed America because “we have honored You and Your word,” and prayed, “in the mighty name of Jesus,” for “an awakening among our leaders.”

The Anti-Choice Movement Is Going All-In For Trump

At last weekend’s National Right to Life Convention outside of Washington, D.C., there was one name that was on everyone’s minds, even if it was rarely uttered aloud: Donald Trump.

Speaker after speaker discussed the 2016 election while sidestepping what one conference-goer called the “elephant in the room,” Trump’s place at the top of the Republican ticket. But attendees were not about to let the topic go, and several speakers were pressed about the organization’s stance on the presidential election during question-and-answer sessions.

While a handful of National Right to Life state affiliates have endorsed Trump, the national group has yet to take an official position in the general election. The group endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz in the waning days of the Republican primary, citing Trump’s many flip-flops on abortion rights.

James Bopp, the legendary conservative attorney who serves as the National Right to Life Committee’s general counsel, was one of the few speakers to bring up the presumptive GOP nominee without prompting, never mentioning the candidate by name but saying that “there’s only one conclusion you can come to” in the race since the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, is “100 percent evil” and “will never make a correct decision on anything.”

Fr. Frank Pavone, the head of Priests for Life, made a similar argument after being pressed about his position on Trump at the conference, attempting to downplay the power that Trump would have and play up the influence that he would give to those around him, presumably people more in line with the anti-choice movement’s goals and messaging.

“When you think about it,” Pavone said, “the situation we have now is just a heightened version of what we face in any electoral choice, namely you’re choosing between two people, you know, you can have problems with both of them. A vote doesn’t mean that you agree with the person, a vote doesn’t mean that you think the person’s right. A vote is a transfer of power.”

“Remember that the presidency is more than the man or woman who occupies the Oval Office,” he added. “You’re putting a whole party into power. You’re putting a whole team into power. Every one of these candidates is surrounded by a large number of smart and influential people who are going to set boundaries and advise them and point them in the right direction. And not only that, but you have, we still do have checks and balances in our system. So if we were voting for a dictator it would be a very different scenario.”

Pavone mentioned that he had recently spoken with John Mashburn, a Trump aide whose hiring was meant in part as a bridge to abortion rights opponents.

Karen Cross, National Right to Life’s political director, was also confronted about Trump during a breakout session by an attendee who called the Republican candidate “the elephant in the room at this whole convention.”

Cross, whose presentation had been about the damage she said was caused by anti-choice activists who demand purity in their candidates and thus let pro-choice candidates win, also offered the Clinton-is-worse argument.

“We have to work against Hillary,” she said. “Hillary is 100 percent pro-abortion, she is the Emily's List, Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, voted and worked against — I mean, she's against the partial-birth abortion ban, she's spoken against the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, she has committed to appointing pro-abortion justices to the court. She is horrible.”

Yet she acknowledged that “this is the most different, most difficult election I've ever seen, ever.”

Mainstream anti-abortion groups have largely fallen in line behind Trump, despite their initial doubts. The Susan B. Anthony List, for instance, has said it will back Trump despite the fact that its president once signed a letter urging primary voters to “support anyone but Donald Trump,” calling into question his commitment to the anti-abortion cause and saying she was “disgusted by Mr. Trump’s treatment of individuals, women, in particular.” Americans United for Life has not taken an official position on Trump, but its acting president told The Washington Times in May that it would be impossible to support Clinton.

At the National Right to Life Convention, speakers focused on the goal of keeping a Republican majority in the Senate, while not dwelling on the risk that having Trump at the top of the ticket may pose to some of their favored candidates.

In one moment of dissonance, Raimundo Rojas, the National Right to Life Committee’s director of Latino outreach, who was giving a workshop on reaching Latino audiences, showed a slide detailing the performance of past Republican presidential candidates among Latino voters. He noted that ignoring or alienating the Hispanic media can spell doom for a candidate. He never mentioned Trump.

Is Trump Letting Religious Right Leaders Have Their Way With GOP Platform?

The Republican Party’s platform committee started meeting in Cleveland this morning to hash out final language that will be presented to delegates at the Republican National Convention next week. Religious Right activists have been gearing up for months to make sure that the platform keeps the anti-gay and anti-abortion language they say will be needed to secure social conservatives’ loyalty to the GOP in November. A draft shared with members of the platform committee on Sunday night reportedly keeps the party’s anti-abortion position intact and continues the party’s opposition to marriage equality, though the draft reportedly abandons a previous call for a constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples nationwide in favor of leaving the decision on marriage to the states.

In May, right-wing Iowa Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told Fox News that his goal was “to get as many solid, constitutional conservatives to Cleveland and onto the platform and rules committees.” That same month, The New York Times reported that Ted Cruz supporters, including former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, were out to “fill the Rules and Platform Committees with strong conservative voices.”

In 2012, platform committee deliberations were dominated by a handful of right-wing activists who stripped out or batted away any moderating language, including tepid language about treating all people equally under the law. A Religious Right stalwart, then-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, chaired the committee and made it clear that he wanted no distracting fights. The final result was the most conservative platform ever, calling for the criminalization of all abortions without exception and decrying marriage equality as “an assault on the foundations of our society.”

It looks like Trump may be following the same strategy of keeping the Religious Right happy by letting them have their way with the platform. On Sunday, the Times’ Jeremy Peters reported that Trump is keeping his distance from battles that have been brewing over the platform’s anti-gay language.

Overseeing all this is Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who has been assuring social conservatives that Trump “is not wanting to rewrite” the platform. Trump adviser Paul Manafort has sent the same message.

Social conservatives praised the May announcement that the platform committee would be led by anti-choice Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming along with co-chairs Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina and Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma. At the time of the announcement, Barrasso said “it’s going to be a conservative platform that reflects our values, freedom, liberty and limited government.”

All the co-chairs have solid right-wing records. Foxx, for example, has fought marriage equality and sought to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding; last month she told attendees at Ralph Reed’s Road to Majority conference, “If people of faith are not involved in political life, then you’re leaving it to the Philistines.” Fallin has been mentioned as a potential VP pick for Trump even though she angered some anti-abortion activists when she vetoed a patently unconstitutional bill that would have made it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion.

Some of the same activists who wrote 2012’s  far-right platform are back on this year’s committee, which consists of two delegates selected by each state party and leaders chosen by the RNC. Among the members of this year’s platform committee:

Among others identified by the New York Times:

There is Cynthia Dunbar of Virginia, who has compared the gay rights movement to Nazism. Hardy Billington, a committee member from Missouri, placed an ad in a local paper asserting that homosexuality kills people at two to three times the rate of smoking. And Mary Frances Forrester of North Carolina has claimed that the “homosexual agenda is trying to change the course of Western civilization.”

In the spring, after Perkins was elected to represent Louisiana on the platform committee, he bragged:

In 2012, my role as a delegate gave me the opportunity to play a key role in amending the marriage plank, which led to the committee approving a much stronger version than 2008’s. We also tightened language on obscenity and pornography, protected conscience rights, explained how abortion hurts women, and supported the Second Amendment in DC.

In a June fundraising letter, Perkins touted his return to the platform committee while warning that “homosexual activist groups, pro-abortion groups, and special interests are trying to transform the Republican platform” to make it more like the “anti-Christian, anti-religious, radical humanist-secularist viewpoint” he said was reflected in the Democratic platform:

Never before have we planned to exert so much influence on a political party's convention as we are regarding the Republican Convention less than 50 days from now in Cleveland…I will serve as an official member of the 112-member Platform Committee, with our entire Action team supporting me, in order to make the greatest impact possible--again, regardless of the nominee -- for faith, family, and freedom…What goes into the official Party platform could make a monumental difference in shaping public policy decisions for our nation in the next four years, and as a result it will impact our lives and the lives of our families and our churches.

Here’s how the battle has been shaping up on LGBT equality and reproductive choice:

LGBT Equality

After anti-gay Religious Right activists got what they wanted in the 2012 platform, LGBT Republicans and their allies launched an organized and well-funded campaign to get better language in the 2016 platform, an effort that conservative leaders have vocally resisted:

“Conservative forces need to understand there is a serious challenge, and they need to take it seriously,” warned Jim Bopp, a social conservative activist who was influential in designing the 2012 GOP platform.

Similarly, Eagle Forum president Ed Martin said, “We’re prepared for the fight. It’s hand-to-hand combat.”

Some pro-LGBT Republicans have seen Trump’s primary victory as an opportunity, since he does not seem to share the Religious Right’s anti-gay ideological convictions, though he has publicly supported their opposition to marriage equality and pledged to appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court. But Trump seems uninterested in standing up for LGBT people if it means picking a fight with his new pals in the Religious Right. For example, Trump has retracted his earlier criticism of North Carolina’s recently passed anti-LGBT law, saying that he now supports it.

Some change in the platform language will be required to deal with the changed reality caused by the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that made marriage equality the law of the land. CBS News reported over the weekend that “moderate Republicans are drafting an amendment that would soften the GOP’s official position on gays and lesbians.” According to CBS, some conservatives may be willing to accept general “equality for all people” language that they rejected in 2012 as a way to “keep the fighting at a minimum.” David Barton told CBS that there might be “rhetorical changes in how it’s communicated, but I don’t think support for natural marriage will diminish at all.”

The new draft platform that will be debated and amended this week does include an explicit rejection of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, calling for "reversal, whether through judicial reconsideration or a constitutional amendment."

Given the high-profile fight over North Carolina’s HB 2, and social conservatives’ efforts to create panic over the idea of transgender people using bathrooms that match their gender identity, it seems likely that the platform will include some anti-transgender language, something Cuccinelli told The New York Times that he thought delegates should do.

Access to Abortion

Many Religious Right activists are skeptical of []Trump’s commitment to the anti-abortion cause, particularly given comments he made in April that he would like to change the platform to include exceptions to its call for a ban on all abortions for cases of rape, incest or when a woman’s life is at stake. The current platform adopted in 2012 supports a constitutional amendment and legislation applying the 14th Amendment’s protections to “unborn children.”

Operation Rescue President Troy Newman and other anti-choice activists are planning to have an active presence in Cleveland in order “to ensure that the GOP platform remains strongly pro-life.”

Newman, who has a record of anti-choice extremism, has sounded the alarm:

“Once again, there is a movement within the GOP to not only gut the pro-life planks from the party platform, but silence the voices of pro-lifers who are demanding an end to abortion,” said Newman. “Softening its position on abortion would spell disaster for the Republican Party and for the future of our nation. I cannot support a party that will not defend the innocent, and I know I am not alone.”

“The eyes of the world will be focused on Cleveland, OH this summer as the GOP nominates their candidate for the President of the United States. Decisions will be made at the convention that will influence our nation for a generation. A coalition of pro-life groups and activists is forming to take advantage of this historic opportunity to collectively raise our voice for the pre-born. We demand the Republican Party continue to defend the preborn, but we are also calling our nation to repent for 43 years of unabated child killing,” said Mark Harrington, National Director of Created Equal.

The National Pro-Life Alliance has also been sending out emails warning that abortion “supporters and apologists would like to eradicate the only pro-life language in either party’s platforms.” The group has been collecting signatures for a “Hands Off the Pro-Life Plank” petition.

But anti-choice activist Austin Ruse isn’t worried. Ruse, one of the conservative Catholic leaders who took part in Trump’s June meeting with Religious Right activists, said at the end of June that while he isn’t convinced of the sincerity of Trump’s opposition to abortion, he believes Trump will “let our side do exactly what we want to do” on the issue.

Similarly, right-wing strategist Richard Viguerie told LifeSiteNews this spring that Trump “has zero chance” of changing the abortion plank in the platform.

State Previews

Some state parties had their own versions of these platform battles. In May, for example, delegates to the Illinois GOP convention “overwhelmingly voted to retain” a plank defining marriage as “between one man and one woman,” rejecting proposed language that “non-traditional families are worthy of the same respect and legal protections as traditional families.”

Some states had bigger fish to fry. At the Texas convention in May, the state platform committee initially endorsed a call for a referendum on Texas declaring independence and seceding from the United States, but that language was not embraced by the party as a whole. Still, the Texas GOP platform did call for legislation requiring people to use facilities “that correspond with their biologically determined sex” and, in the words of the Texas Tribune, “included strong disapproval of gay lifestyles and no state restrictions on ‘access to sexual orientation change efforts for self-motivated youth and adults.’”

 

James Bopp: Trump The Only Choice Against '100 Percent Evil' Hillary Clinton

James Bopp, the general counsel of the National Right to Life Committee, who has been the brains behind the dismantling of campaign finance reforms and a driving force in the effort to chip away at abortion rights with incremental legal victories, urged abortion rights opponents to vote for Donald Trump last week, saying that Hillary Clinton as president would be “100 percent evil.”

Speaking to a small group at the National Right to Life Committee’s convention outside of Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Bopp said that the vacancy on the Supreme Court and possible upcoming vacancies give conservatives and abortion rights opponents a “really big stake” in the presidential election.

In politics, he said, “You have two choices. You have to compare the choices. You don’t examine just one and say, ‘Well, I don’t like that so I’m just not going to vote for it.’”

“I think there’s only one conclusion you can come to” in the presidential race, he said, saying that “as flawed as people may think the Republican candidate is,” Clinton “will be 100 percent evil. She will never make a correct decision on anything.”

The four moderate justices on the current Supreme Court, he said, display “unthinking, reflexive voting based on policy results,” which he called “chilling.”

“Five, six, seven of these liberal judges voting in lockstep, mindlessly voting in lockstep to impose every liberal policy agenda that they can think of is what we have at stake” in the election, he said.

Citing an article in The Atlantic by law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, Bopp warned, “These people have crazy, nutty ideas and they’re going to use their bloc to do it.”

On abortion, he warned, a more liberal court could rewrite the Roe v. Wade decision on gender discrimination grounds and “what that would mean is that every limitation, every restriction, every condition on abortions will be illegal. Every one. All of them.”

The anti-abortion movement is regrouping after the Supreme Court struck down unnecessary regulations on Texas abortion clinics in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Bopp acknowledged this, saying that the standard for new anti-abortion laws is “What will [Justice Anthony] Kennedy accept post the Texas abortion case?”

He suggested that anti-abortion legislators and lawyers could turn their attention to 20-week abortion bans, “dismemberment abortion” bans or restrictions such as ultrasound requirements that Kennedy’s previous rulings have indicated that he might accept.

What Kennedy will do, he said, “is really based on the individual circumstances that would be presented in the future,” noting that the circumstances of the Texas case were “somewhat extreme” in the number of clinics that shut down after the law was passed, although he said the clinic shutdowns were merely correlated with, not caused by, the Texas law.

Right Wing Round-Up - 6/7/16

The Personhood Movement: Undermining Roe In The Courts: Part 3

This is the third post in a RWW series on the reemergence of the fetal personhood movement and what it means for the future of abortion rights in the U.S.

Part 1: The Personhood Movement: Where It Comes From And What It Means For The Future Of Choice
Part 2: The Personhood Movement: Internal Battles Go Public
Part 4: The Personhood Movement: Regrouping After Defeat

As we have detailed in previous posts in this series, ever since the anti-choice movement rose to prominence in the wake of Roe v. Wade, it has been divided over how to go about repealing Roe and recriminalizing abortion in the U.S.

Groups like Americans United for Life (AUL) and the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) have achieved great success in pushing states to adopt incremental measures targeting abortion providers in the name of protecting women’s health and in advocating for national policies — such as the 2003 “partial-birth” abortion ban and the 20-week abortion ban currently being considered by Congress — that attempt to undermine the legal reasoning in Roe by targeting a small segment of abortion procedures.

But the anti-choice personhood movement believes that the incremental strategy is doing too little to end legal abortion. They believe they have a better plan.

The personhood movement argues that small, incremental legal victories cutting off access to abortion will never achieve the ultimate goal of completely criminalizing the procedure — in part because those measures fail to make a moral argument on behalf of the humanity of the fertilized egg and fetus.

At the founding convention of the Personhood Alliance late last year, the chief of staff to Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, notorious for his legal fight over a Ten Commandment monument he placed in the courthouse rotunda, discussed an alternate legal strategy to end abortion rights. As Nina Martin has outlined in The New Republic, Moore’s protégé and colleague Justice Tom Parker has been carefully laying out a legal framework to overturn Roe, not by constitutional amendment, but by the legal redefinition of what it means to be a person protected by the law.

Parker, with Moore’s backing, has been building a body of jurisprudence that offers a blueprint for a personhood victory in the courts. In doing so, he’s drawn the attention and praise of anti-choice activists; Liberty Counsel, a right-wing legal group, has called him a “modern-day Wilberforce.”

Since efforts to overturn Roe by passing a Human Life Amendment or a legislative alternative faltered in Congress in the 1970s and 1980s, personhood advocates have focused on the states, passing legislation giving limited rights to fetuses as separate entities from pregnant women. Since 1986, 38 states have passed “fetal homicide” laws identifying fetuses at some or all stages of development as separate victims of crime and in 2004 Congress passed a similar law covering federal crimes. Similarly, in 18 states substance abuse during pregnancy is legally considered child abuse. In Alabama last year, Republicans passed a law allowing judges to appoint lawyers for fetuses. As Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate at the Guttmacher Institute, put it in an interview, “all of that is about trying to build up a legal case that personhood starts at fertilization.”

Personhood USA’s 2014 attempt to insert personhood language into Colorado law drew on this legal history, specifically limiting its new definition of personhood to the Colorado criminal code and Colorado Wrongful Death Act. But the proposal was nonetheless widely recognized as an attempt to ban abortion, or at least to set up a legal battle challenging Roe. In fact, Colorado had already passed laws imposing extra penalties for crimes against pregnant women, the purported purpose of the personhood amendment. “They are changing the tone, they are changing the language, they are changing the messaging to try to win,” Nash said.

Parker has chronicled laws treating fetuses as full-fledged humans in certain cases to argue that “[t]oday, the only major area in which unborn children are denied legal protection is abortion, and that denial is only because of Roe.” He has urged the Supreme Court to address the issue at the next chance it gets.

Parker and Moore’s strategy relies on what the personhood movement’s proponents believe is a loophole in Roe v. Wade that would allow anti-abortion advocates to effectively undo the decision without a constitutional amendment or a Supreme Court friendlier to their cause. In Roe, the Justices rejected the idea of fetal personhood. Justice Blackmun wrote in his majority opinion that “no case could be cited that holds that a fetus is a person within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment,” noting, “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case, of course, collapses...for the fetus' right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.”

A federal bill that currently has 132 cosponsors in the House and 21 in the Senate takes aim at this supposed loophole in Roe, simply declaring that “the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being," which includes “each member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.”

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the chief sponsor of the Senate bill, signed a fundraising email for the pro-personhood National Pro-Life Alliance in November, arguing that his was the strategy that would work:

The Supreme Court itself admitted  if Congress declares unborn children 'persons' under the law, the constitutional case for abortion-on-demand 'collapses.'

Alabama’s Supreme Court is the most prominent court to give a serious hearing to the personhood strategy, long considered by even some in the anti-choice movement to be a crackpot theory and a potential political and legal disaster. As recently as 2009, Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, wrote in the National Review that the so-called “personhood loophole” was an “urban legend” and those pursuing it were “heading toward a brick wall.” Forsythe argued that in 1992 Casey decision, the Supreme Court had shifted the abortion debate from the personhood of fetuses to the rights of women, and that that was therefore the ground that the anti-choice movement should be playing on. “The real challenge for pro-lifers in 2009 is to effectively address the assumption that abortion is good for women,” he wrote, presaging AUL’s revamped woman-focused messaging.

Even more alarming to the personhood strategy’s detractors in the anti-choice movement is the possibility that a personhood challenge to Roe could create the opportunity for a Supreme Court ruling that would actually strengthen constitutional protections for abortion rights. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for instance, has said that she believes abortion rights should be secured under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, making the issue more clearly about the rights of women. In 2010, Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) wrote, “If a personhood amendment comes before this court, a new and terrifying decision may put the pro-life movement back a quarter century or more.”

In 2007, as the anti-choice movement’s schism over a ban on so-called “partial-birth” abortion was gaining national attention, Georgia Right to Life, which was at the the state affiliate of NRLC, worked with legislators to introduce a state constitutional amendment defining a “person” under state law as “including unborn children at every state of their biological development, including fertilization.”

Although the Georgia amendment was based on language originally drafted as a federal constitutional amendment by NRLC, NRLC’s chief counsel James Bopp, Jr. tried to shut it down. In a lengthy and frank memo to his fellow anti-choice activists, Bopp contended that such an amendment would be immediately struck down in federal courts and, if it made it to the Supreme Court, could give the court’s majority the opportunity to rewrite Roe in the way favored by Ginsburg. The state-level personhood strategy, he cautioned, was “presently doomed to expansive failure.”

Instead, Bopp said, the anti-choice movement should continue its incremental strategy, which was succeeding in curtailing access to abortion while keeping the issue in the public eye. He wrote that the “partial-birth” abortion law had been a successful example of this strategy because it “forced the pro-abortion camp to publicly defend a particularly visible and gruesome practice.” Acknowledging that “most pro-lifers” believe that abortion should only be available to save the life of a pregnant woman, he warned that absolutist, no-exceptions approaches like personhood were both legally unwise and poor public relations:

By contrast, the pro-life movement must at present avoid fighting on the more difficult terrain of its own position, namely arguing that abortion should not be available in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and harm to the mother. While restricting abortion in these situations is morally defensible, public opinion polls show that popular support for the pro-life side drops off dramatically when these “hard” cases are the topic. And while most pro-lifers believe that a consistent pro-life position requires permitting abortion in only the rare circumstances where it is necessary to save the life of the mother, some pro-lifers believe that there should not even be an exception to preserve the life of the mother. Other pro-lifers advocate exceptions for rape or incest. This is an important debate to have, and we should be ready to convince the public of the need for few, if any, exceptions to laws prohibiting abortion when such laws can be upheld. However, since that is currently not the case, such a debate is premature and would undermine public support for the pro-life position.

Responding to Bopp’s memo, the conservative Thomas More Law Center, which drafted the Georgia amendment, argued that the incremental strategy had taken too long and done too little and that “after 34 years of abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy, it is time to rethink pro-life strategy.”

“[T]he central holding of Roe v. Wade remains the primary obstacle to any meaningful pro-life initiative that seeks to end abortion,” wrote Thomas More attorney Robert J. Muise. “To remove this obstacle, a case must be presented to the United States Supreme Court that challenges the central premise of Roe — that the unborn is not a person within the meaning of the law.”

If personhood laws were to succeed in the courts, the legal implications would be immense and unpredictable.

The ambiguous wording of personhood measures has led to concerns that they could be interpreted to outlaw oral contraception, IUDs and in-vitro fertilization. But birth control is not the only issue. As the National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s Lynn Paltrow and Fordham sociologist Jeanne Flavin have documented, laws granting legal rights to fetuses outside the context of abortion have led to hundreds of cases of pregnant women being arrested or otherwise apprehended after suffering miscarriages or for alleged drug and alcohol use deemed to be harmful to the fetus.

In countries that completely criminalize abortion — the goal of the “pro-life” movement in the U.S. — pregnant woman can find themselves in terrifying situations: recently in El Salvador, a woman was sentenced to 30 years in prison for murder after suffering a miscarriage.

As Paltrow told Newsweek in 2012, “There’s no way to give embryos constitutional personhood without subtracting women from the community of constitutional persons.”

By redefining what it means to be a person under the law, personhood measures could also have a broad legal impact on issues unrelated to reproductive rights, threatening to upend everything from inheritance law to census results. In 2014, the Colorado Bar Association opposed the state’s personhood ballot measure, warning that the vaguely worded measure would have “potentially serious, unintended and unknown consequences for Colorado lawyers…From areas of Family Law to Probate Law to Real Estate Law, as well as the explicit effect on Criminal Law and Wrongful Death statutes, this Amendment could create uncertainty and endless litigation.”

Daniel Becker, the former leader of Georgia Right to Life and founder of the Personhood Alliance, also sees the personhood issue as extending beyond abortion rights, but in a different direction. The final chapter of Becker's 2011 manifesto, "Personhood," is written in the form of a science fiction story set in a "post-human future" in which computers have gained consciousness, procreation has been moved to laboratories, and a "specialized sub-class of human-animal hybrids" has been developed to perform menial labor. The anti-abortion rights movement, he argues, will cease to be relevant in coming battles over biotechnology if it remains "at its heart, anti-abortion as opposed to pro-sanctity of human life." He argues that only by embracing full "personhood" rights for zygotes and fetuses will the movement remain viable in the future.

The personhood movement, while it has hope in the legal system, also recognizes that it won’t get far without winning hearts and minds. In the final post in this series, we’ll look at the movement’s efforts to reorganize in the wake of electoral defeats.

6 Right-Wing Zealots and the Crazy Ideas Behind the Most Outrageous Republican Platform Ever

Note: this story is cross-posted at AlterNet.

The official 2012 Republican Party platform is a far-right fever dream, a compilation of pouting, posturing, and policies to meet just about every demand from the overlapping Religious Right, Tea Party, corporate, and neo-conservative wings of the GOP.  If moderates have any influence in today’s Republican Party, you wouldn’t know it by reading the platform.  Efforts by a few delegates to insert language favoring civil unions, comprehensive sex education, and voting rights for the District of Columbia, for example, were all shot down.  Making the rounds of right-wing pre-convention events on Sunday, Rep. Michele Bachmann gushed about the platform’s right-wing tilt, telling fired-up Tea Partiers that “the Tea Party has been all over that platform.”

Given the Republican Party’s hard lurch to the right, which intensified after the election of Barack Obama, the “most conservative ever” platform is not terribly surprising. But it still didn’t just happen on its own.  Here are some of the people we can thank on the domestic policy front.
 
1. Bob McDonnell.   As platform committee chair, McDonnell made it clear he was not in the mood for any amendments to the draft language calling for a “Human Life Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution and legal recognition that the “unborn” are covered by the Fourteenth Amendment – “personhood” by another name.  McDonnell is in many ways the ideal right-wing governor: he ran as a fiscal conservative and governs like the Religious Right activist he has been since he laid out his own political platform in the guise of a master’s thesis at Pat Robertson’s Regent University. 
 
His thesis argued that feminists and working women were detrimental to the family, and that public policy should favor married couples over “cohabitators, homosexuals, or fornicators.”  When running for governor, McDonnell disavowed his thesis, but as a state legislator he pushed hard to turn those positions into policy.  As the Washington Post noted, “During his 14 years in the General Assembly, McDonnell pursued at least 10 of the policy goals he laid out in that research paper, including abortion restrictions, covenant marriage, school vouchers and tax policies to favor his view of the traditional family. In 2001, he voted against a resolution in support of ending wage discrimination between men and women.”  As governor, McDonnell signed the kind of mandatory ultrasound law that is praised in this year’s platform.  When his name was floated as a potential V.P. pick, Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood decried his “deeply troubling record on women’s health.”
 
2 Tony Perkins.  Perkins heads the Family Research Council, whose Values Voter Summit is the Religious Right’s most important annual conference, at which movement activists rub shoulders with Republican officials and candidates.  Perkins bragged in an email to his supporters how much influence he and his friend David Barton (see below) had on the platform.  Perkins was an active member of the platform committee, proposing language to oppose school-based health clinics that provide referrals for contraception or abortion, and arguing for the strongest possible anti-marriage equality language.  Perkins also introduced an amendment to the platform calling on the District of Columbia government to loosen its gun laws, which Perkins says still do not comply with recent Supreme Court rulings.
 
The media tends to treat Perkins, a telegenic former state legislator, as a reasonable voice of the Religious Right, but his record and his group’s positions prove otherwise.  Perkins has been aggressively exploiting the recent shooting at FRC headquarters to divert attention from the group’s extremism by claiming that the Southern Poverty Law Center was irresponsible in calling FRC a hate group.  Unfortunately for Perkins, the group’s record of promoting hatred toward LGBT people is well documented.  Perkins has even complained that the press and President Obama were being too hard on Uganda’s infamous “kill the gays” bill, which he described as an attempt to “uphold moral conduct.” It’s worth remembering that Perkins ran a 1996 campaign for Louisiana Senate candidate Woody Jenkins that paid $82,600 to David Duke for the Klan leader’s mailing list; the campaign was fined by the FEC for trying to cover it up.
 
3. David Barton.  Texas Republican activist and disgraced Christian-nation “historian” Barton has had a tough year, but Tampa has been good to him.  He was perhaps the most vocal member of the platform committee, and was a featured speaker at Sunday’s pre-convention “prayer rally.” During the platform committee’s final deliberations, Barton couldn’t seem to hear his own voice often enough.  He was the know-it-all nitpicker, piping up with various language changes, such as deleting a reference to the family as the “school of democracy” because families are not democracies.  He thought it was too passive to call Obamacare an “erosion of” the Constitution and thought it should be changed to an “attack on” the founding document.  He called for stronger anti-public education language and asserted that large school districts employ one administrator for every teacher.  He backed anti-abortion language, tossing out the claim that 127 medical studies over five decades say that abortion hurts women.  Progressives have been documenting Barton’s lies for years, but more recently conservative evangelical scholars have also been hammering  his claims about American history.  The critical chorus got so loud that Christian publishing powerhouse Thomas Nelson pulled Barton’s most recent book – which, ironically, purports to correct “lies” about Thomas Jefferson – from the shelves.  Of course, Barton has had plenty of practice at this sort of thing, from producing bogusdocumentaries designed to turn African Americans against the Democratic Party to pushing his religious and political ideology into Texas textbooks. Barton’s right-wing friends like Glenn Beck have rallied around him. And nothing seems to tarnish Barton with the GOP allies for whom he has proven politically useful over the years. 
 
4. Kris Kobach.  Kris Kobach wants to be your president one day; until now, he has gotten as far as Kansas Secretary of State.  He may be best known as the brains behind Arizona’s “show me your papers” law, and he successfully pushed for anti-immigrant language in the platform, including a call for the federal government to deny funds to universities that allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition – a plank that puts Kobach and the platform at odds with Kansas law.  Immigration is not Kobach’s only issue. He is an energizing force behind the Republican Party’s massive push for voter suppression laws around the country, and he led the effort to get language inserted into the platform calling on states to pass laws requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration.  He also pushed language aimed at the supposed threat to the Constitution and laws of the US from “Sharia law”; getting this language into the platform puts the GOP in position of endorsing a ludicrous far-right conspiracy theory.  Kobach hopes that will give activists a tool for pressuring more states to pass their own anti-Sharia laws.  In the platform committee, he backed Perkins’ efforts to maintain the strongest language against marriage equality.  Even an amendment to the marriage section saying that everyone should be treated “equally under the law” as long as they are not hurting anyone else, was shot down by Kobach.  Kobach also claims he won support for a provision to oppose any effort to limit how many bullets can go into a gun’s magazine.
 
5. James Bopp.  James Bopp is a Republican lawyer and delegate from Indiana whose client list is a Who’s Who of right-wing organizations, including National Right to Life and the National Organization for Marriage, which he has represented in its efforts to keep political donors secret.  As legal advisor to Citizens United, Bopp has led legal attacks on campaign finance laws and played a huge role in bringing us the world of unlimited right-wing cash flooding our elections.  Bopp chaired this year’s platform subcommittee on “restoring constitutional government,” which helps explain its strong anti-campaign finance reform language. 
 
Bopp is also an annoyingly petty partisan, having introduced a resolution in the Republican National Committee in 2009 urging the Democratic Party to change its name to the “Democrat Socialist Party.”  In this year’s platform committee, Bopp successfully pushed for the removal of language suggesting that residents of the District of Columbia might deserve some representation in Congress short of statehood.  His sneering comments, and his gloating fist-pump when the committee approved his resolution, have not won him any friends among DC residents – not that he cares.  He also spoke out against a young delegate’s proposal that the party recognize civil unions, which Bopp denounced as “counterfeit marriage.”  In spite of all these efforts, Bopp has been at the forefront of Romney campaign platform spin, arguing in the media that the platform language on abortion is not really a “no-exceptions” ban, in spite of its call for a Human Life Amendment and laws giving Fourteenth Amendment protections to the “unborn.” 
 
6. Dick Armey.  Former Republican insider Dick Armey now runs FreedomWorks, the Koch-backed, corporate-funded, Murdoch-promoted Tea Party astroturfing group – or, in their words, a “grassroots service center.” Armey has been a major force behind this year’s victories of Tea Party Senate challengers like Ted Cruz in Texas and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, both of whom knocked off “establishment” candidates – FreedomWorks also backed Rand Paul in Kentucky and Mike Lee in Utah in 2010.  As Alternet’s Adele Stan has reported, FreedomWorks’s goal is to build a cadre of far-right senators to create a “power center around Jim DeMint,” the Senate’s reigning Tea Party-Religious Right hero. 
 
To put Armey’s stamp on the platform, FreedomWorks created a “Freedom Platform” project, which enlisted Tea Party leaders to come up with proposed platform planks and encouraged activists to vote for them online. Then FreedomWorks pushed the party to include these planks in the official platform:
      Repeal Obamacare; Pursue Patient-Centered Care
      Stop the Tax Hikes
      Reverse Obama’s Spending Increases
      Scrap the Code; Replace It with a Flat Tax
      Pass a Balanced Budget Amendment
      Reject Cap and Trade
      Rein in the EPA
      Unleash America’s Vast Energy Potential
      Eliminate the Department of Education
      Reduce the Bloated Federal Workforce
      Curtail Excessive Federal Regulation
      Audit the Fed
 
An Ohio Tea Party Group, The Ohio Liberty Coalition, celebrated that 10 of 12 made it to the draft – everything but the flat tax and eliminating the Department of Education.  But FreedomWorks gave itself a more generous score, arguing for an 11.5 out of 12.  FreedomWorks vice president Dean Clancy said that the platform’s call for a “flatter” tax “opens the door to a Flat Tax” and said that they considered the education section of the platform a “partial victory” because it includes “a very strong endorsement of school choice, including vouchers.”
 
Honorable mention: Mitt Romney.  This is his year, his party, and his platform.  The entire Republican primary was essentially an exercise in Romney moving to the right to try to overcome resistance to his nomination from activists who distrusted his ideological authenticity.   The last thing the Romney campaign wanted was a fight with the base, like the one that happened in San Diego in 1996, when Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition delighted in publicly humiliating nominee Robert Dole over   his suggestion that the GOP might temper its anti-abortion stance.  Romney signaled his intention to avoid a similar conflict when he named Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to chair the platform committee. 
 
Keeping Everybody Happy
 
The new GOP platform reflects Romney’s desire to placate every aspect of the party’s base.  It also demonstrates both the continuingpower of the Religious Right within the GOP, as well as ongoing efforts to erase any distinctions between social conservatives and anti-government zealots, as demonstrated by Ralph Reed welcoming Grover Norquist to his Faith and Freedom coalition leadership luncheon on Sunday.

GOP Platform Committee Disses DC

The Republican Party’s platform committee spent the day addressing amendments to sections of the platform draft that came up through subcommittees.  It seems that the DC delegation had managed to get into the draft platform some vague language supporting improved representation. It didn’t last. 

The language said that while the Party is opposed to statehood, there could be constructive alternative means of representation that should be considered.  Even that was too much.  James Bopp, delegate from Indiana, dripping contempt for DC, called for that to be hacked out, which it was. He said the District already has representation through its delegate and through the "Democrat Party," which is “of, by, and for the federal government.”

Watch Bopp's comments and his little victory celebration:

Right Wing Leftovers

  • Sarah Palin's PAC filings show donations to Reps. Michele Bachmann and Marsha Blackburn, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell, and Sens. Lindsey Graham and Orrin Hatch.
  • LifeNews: A federal judge has issued a ruling saying a collection of pro-life groups don't have standing to file a lawsuit against the FDA over its decision allowing the sales of the morning after pill to minors. The groups wanted to reverse the Food and Drug Administration ruling opening the morning after pill to 17-year-olds.
  • The Republican National Lawyers Association has named James Bopp its Republican Lawyer of the Year.
  • Take that, Woodstock.
  • Focus on the Family President and CEO Jim Daly is scheduled to appear on Thursday night's episode of "Hannity" as part of "The Great American Panel."

Dirtiest RNC Race Ever and Nothing Will Change

Ralph Z. Hallow reports that, according to insiders involved in the race to become the next chairman of the Republican National Committee, the current campaign, which is to be decided tomorrow, has become the "dirtiest ever":

From anonymous charges of racism, old-fashioned graft and outright incompetence, the six-man race for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee has devolved into the dirtiest - and most closely watched - in recent history.

The 168 members who Friday will elect the next chairman have been inundated with anonymous e-mails attacking the characters and capabilities of the various candidates and, in at least one case, accusing a candidate of conspiring with political consultants to cash in on the millions of dollars in future advertising by the party.

"This is dirtiest ever - and remember, I was the longest-serving state party chairman in the history of this committee," said RNC member and former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett, a supporter of Mike Duncan, the incumbent national chairman who is seeking a second two-year term.

One candidate, South Carolina Republican Chairman Katon Dawson, is the subject this week of an unsigned e-mail to RNC members that bore a hypothetical USA Today front page with the banner headline, "RNC members choose 'whites only' chairman," as a warning of how a Dawson win would be spun.

...

On Monday, Indiana RNC member James Bopp Jr., who formed a self-described conservative rump group of RNC members to fight the [Michael] Steele candidacy, sent members a signed e-mail basically accusing Mr. Steele of lying about his casual relationship with the RLC.

It quoted Mrs. Whitman as saying that she was proud to join with "Michael Steele in creating a powerful and influential group that can bring our party back to its roots while promoting the common-sense centrist values we all hold so dear." The word "centrist" among members of the dominant strain of the Republican Party is an epithet.

...

Another anonymous e-mail to members noted that Saul Anuzis does not have a formal education beyond high school - he attended college for four years but did not finish his degree - and called the salaried Michigan Republican chairman "a paid political hack whose greed and misconduct lost him his job in government. After fifteen years of trying to make it in business, he came back to what he knew best: politics for pay."

A particularly vicious whack at Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state and the other black man chasing the chairman's post, appeared in a Jan. 6 anonymous e-mail claiming he was "dangerously incompetent" as secretary of state and accusing him of using taxpayer money to finance TV ads to "boost his own name recognition" in preparation for his failed run for governor.

As entertaining as it has been to watch them tear each other apart, Hallow reports that the viciousness stems from the fact that, in terms of actual substance, there doesn't appear to be any actual differences among the candidate's stances on the hot-button issues of the day:

However, when The Times submitted three questions on the biggest hot-button issues - gay marriage, immigration and federal bailouts - little substantive difference emerged among the six men.

Mr. Duncan was the lone candidate who did not respond initially to the questions, instead sending a single response attacking President Obama and not even doing so on the issues in question. All six men support a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants and doubt the government's competence to bail out industries failing in the marketplace.

So no matter who wins, it looks like we'll have yet another anti-gay, anti-immigrant, obstructionist chairman at the RNC. 

How has that been working out for them lately?  

Conservatives Seeks to Control RNC Vetting Process

The Washington Times reports that a group calling itself the RNC Conservative Steering Committee has formed in order to try and control the process of picking the next Republican National Committee Chairman.  Among those involved in the newly formed group is long-time right-wing attorney and early Mitt Romney-backer James Bopp:

In a highly unusual move, 37 self-identified conservatives on the 168-member Republican National Committee have formed a group to vet candidates for the $200,300-a-year, elected post of Republican national chairman, The Washington Times has learned.

An e-mail in which the group dubbed itself the RNC Conservative Steering Committee defines its goal as to ensure the election of a reliably conservative national leader. The group of vetters, however, itself includes several of the candidates for national chairman.

The group was the brainchild of Solomon Yue, an RNC member from Oregon and himself a supporter of one of the candidates for national chairman, sitting RNC Chairman Robert M. "Mike" Duncan.

James Bopp Jr., hired in September by Mr. Duncan to be the attorney of record in challenges in federal courts of the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law, is another of the organizers who signed the e-mail. Mr. Bopp said he expects to see grow in numbers as more RNC members ask to join the steering committee.

The committee will use a Dec. 12 conference call to develop the conservative criteria for picking the next national chairman and then will interview no more than four prospects. Voting will take place on Dec. 19 at an undisclosed location in Washington.

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