Barry Loudermilk: Marriage Equality 'Just an Opinion,' Similar To Dred Scott

Last week, Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., held a town hall meeting in Kennesaw, Georgia, to discuss constituent concerns and recent events in the nation, including the Charleston massacre and the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling.

Loudermilk refused to answer a question on whether he would take down the Confederate flag from state buildings in Georgia, instead choosing to focus on the shooting's significance for the Christian community. The congressman called the tragedy “an attack on the freedom of religion,” joining a long line of GOP pundits who have tied the shooting to the Religious Right’s claims of anti-Christian persecution rather than to its clear racist motives.

“Where did this massacre take place? In the church,” Loudermilk said, later adding, “It’s an attack on rights, they’re all attacks on rights.”  

The representative also touched on the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, criticizing the justices for allegedly overstepping their constitutional boundaries. He joked that he used the word "decision" loosely, asking attendees, “Do you know what the actual term for what they did was? An opinion.”

“Hey, it was the Supreme Court’s opinion that Dred Scott and slavery was okay, did they get that right?” Loudermilk continued, echoing similar arguments made by anti-gay activists and politicians including Alan Keyes, Steve King, and Bryan Fischer.

“They get things wrong, sometimes their opinion is wrong,” Loudermilk said. After comparing marriage equality to slavery, Loudermilk left the crowd with an optimistic sentiment: “We can overcome these things.”

ALEC’s Secret Meetings Exposed in Georgia

Last week a local Atlanta television station went to an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in Savannah GA to expose the secret relationship ALEC legislators have with corporate lobbyists. Watch the investigation unfold as ALEC’s staff scrambled to respond.

This investigation shows us firsthand how ALEC members are working in secret to develop policies that impact average Americans on behalf of corporate special interests without the public’s input. To learn more about ALEC, check out the PFAW Right Wing Watch report, “ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in State Legislatures.”


Rape Exception In Abortion Ban Divides Anti-Choice Movement

As the House prepares to vote on a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a top priority of the biggest anti-choice groups in the country, a leader of the “personhood” movement is urging members of Congress to vote against the bill because it includes an exemption for survivors of rape and incest.

On Monday, Daniel Becker, head of the new Personhood Alliance, called into the radio program hosted by Cleveland Right to Life’s Molly Smith, telling her that he was in Washington lobbying lawmakers to oppose the bill because of the rape exceptions, which he said some Georgia representatives had already agreed to do.

[UPDATE: It seems that Becker's vote count was optimistic. All Georgia Republicans voted for the 20-week ban — including Rep. Rob Woodall, who voted against it in 2013 — except for Rep. Jody Hice, who voted "present."]

The last time the bill was put up for a vote, in 2013, Becker — then the head of Georgia Right to Life — did the same thing, openly defying the national groups that were pushing for the bill’s passage. A rape exception had been hastily added to the bill before it was put up for a vote in because of controversial remarks on pregnancy by rape made by the bill’s sponsor, Arizona Republican Trent Franks. The House was scheduled to vote on the bill again in January on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, but the vote was cancelled as another dispute over the rape language erupted in the GOP caucus.

Becker told Smith that “behind closed doors,” anti-choice groups acknowledge that there is no chance for the bill to be enacted during Obama’s presidency, meaning that it is “a messaging bill” — one which he argued was sending the wrong message.

Becker emphasized that while no-exceptions anti-choice advocates like himself share the same ultimate goal, the criminalization of abortion, leaders of the major national groups have shown themselves willing to compromise on issues like rape exceptions. The two sides of the movement just differ on strategy, he said.

“The message that we send should comport completely with our policy objectives, beginning at the beginning of the pro-life movement itself,” he said. “We as a movement have never disagreed on our policy objectives. We have merely bickered and disagreed over strategy, what can be accomplished, what should be tried, what this will accomplish if we do this, that or the other. But as far as our objectives, it’s to stand for the sanctity of life, man created imago dei, in the image of God, and that sanctity of life should be protected at its earliest biological beginning all the way to natural death. So we’re seeing a message bill being crafted in Washington, DC, that has no chance of saving a single life.”

He insisted that such a no-exceptions message would play well with voters: “When we bring it down to a baby’s rights, a child’s rights, as opposed to the mother’s rights, the baby always wins in the mind of the public in most cases.”

Smith lamented that the vote merely presented an opportunity for members of Congress to get “a tick beside their names form some of these larger pro-life organizations” in election-year candidate guides.

“Molly, you’ve lifted the covers on an ugly secret,” Becker responded, “and that is the pro-life leadership are electing moderates into positions of influence that are undermining our efforts behind closed doors.”

Renee Ellmers, the North Carolina congresswoman who led the revolt against the version of the bill that exempted rape survivors only if they filed a police report, “was projected to be the darling child of Susan B. Anthony List,” Becker said.

“She was going to be the future of the pro-life movement, and she was the one who shut down the bill, much to their chagrin, who they later demonized. How do you take the future savior and demonize them at the same time? It’s because they’re electing moderates with rape and incest exceptions. If we were electing conservatives who knew what the value of human life entailed, they’d be right on the marriage issue, fiscal policy and government issues across the board.”

Rafael Cruz: Obama 'Cursed The Jewish People,' Inviting God's Judgment On America

In a speech to a Georgia Tea Party group on Monday in which he warned that if Hillary Clinton is elected president, “you might as well kiss this country goodbye,” Rafael Cruz also declared that President Obama has “cursed the Jewish people” and that it is only people like his son, Sen. Ted Cruz, who are saving America from destruction at the hands of an angry God.

Calling Obama’s interactions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “shameful,” the elder Cruz proudly told the story of his son leaving an event focused on the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians after some members of the audience booed his statements about Israel.

“Let me tell you, the word of God tells us in Genesis 12:3, God’s speaking to Abraham, the father of Israel: ‘I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you,’” Rafael Cruz told the Georgia group. “This current administration has cursed the Jewish people, has cursed the nation of Israel more than any other administration in history. I believe the only reason judgment has not fallen upon America is because of the faithful remnant that is standing in the gap.”

At another point in his appearance, Cruz blasted what he called Obama’s “disastrous” move toward relations with Cuba.

“Well, he’s out to destroy us,” an audience member interjected.

“Oh, of course,” Cruz responded.

Rafael Cruz: If Hillary Clinton Elected, 'Might As Well Kiss This Country Goodbye'

In a speech to a Tea Party event in Rome, Georgia, last week, Rafael Cruz declared that if Hillary Clinton is elected president next year, “you might as well kiss this country goodbye.”

The father and close adviser of GOP presidential candidate and Texas senator Ted Cruz echoed his son’s frequent comparisons of himself to Ronald Reagan, telling the audience that “there are so many parallels” between Reagan’s election in 1980 and the 2016 contest.

Drawing directly from Ted Cruz’s misleading talking points about the Carter and Obama economies, the elder Cruz reassured his audience, “It took Jimmy Carter to give us Ronald Reagan. Because of Jimmy Carter, we were able to mobilize millions of Americans. We did it in 1980, we can do it again.”

“If we did it then, you bet we can do it again,” he said. “And let me tell you, if we have someone like Hillary Clinton elected in 2016, you might as well kiss this country goodbye, this country’s gone. We are fighting for the survival of America.” captured the video:

Hobby Lobby Comes Home to Roost as States Consider "Religious Freedom" Legislation

This op-ed was originally published at The Huffington Post.

Over the last twenty years, 19 states have passed laws modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was enacted in 1993 with broad bipartisan support. But just this year, almost the same number, 15, have seen such bills introduced, generating enormous controversy across the country, particularly in Indiana where Gov. Mike Pence signed the new state RFRA into law.

Why the huge uptick now? As one of those involved in the original drafting and passage of RFRA in 1993, I think it's a combination of the perceived dangers to the far right from the move towards LGBT marriage equality and the perceived opportunity created just last year by the 5-4 Supreme Court's rewriting of RFRA in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

Even before the Supreme Court agreed to decide the marriage equality issue, the far right has highlighted the supposed dangers to small businesses like bakers and florists who do not want to serve LGBT couples because of religious objections. Under RFRA as passed in 1993, and under the protection from the First Amendment's Free Exercise doctrine that it was meant to restore, RFRA wouldn't have offered much help. First, neither had been applied to non-religious corporations, which had never been thought to have religious freedom rights. Second, it would have been very hard to argue that a neutral law banning discrimination against LGBT people would have created a "substantial burden" on actual religious exercise, which is required to qualify for a RFRA-type exemption. For example, in one case the Supreme Court rejected the claim that requiring federal welfare recipients to submit social security numbers was such a burden even when it conflicted with an applicant's religious beliefs. And even if such a burden were created by obeying an anti-discrimination or other general law, pre-Hobby Lobby law would not have helped a religious claimant: as the Court ruled in rejecting a religious exemption to a requirement that a religious farmer withhold social security taxes, such an exemption would improperly "operate to impose the employer's religious faith on the employees" and others.

But then came Hobby Lobby.

In that case, writing for a bare majority of the Court, Justice Alito ruled that religious objections by a corporation's owners exempted them under RFRA from providing contraceptive coverage through insurance to employees under the Affordable Care Act. As Justice Ginsburg explained in dissent, rather than interpreting RFRA to restore prior case law, the majority interpreted it as going beyond prior Court decisions to maximize benefits to religious claimants. In particular, she explained, the Court effectively re-wrote RFRA so that it could be invoked by for-profit corporations, and so that the original law protecting individuals against a "substantial burden" on the exercise of religion was transformed to allow claims by a business owner that complying with a neutral law offended their religious beliefs in some way. Under the majority's view, Justice Ginsburg suggested, RFRA could be interpreted to "require exemptions" in cases where religious beliefs were used to justify actions that discriminated on the basis of race, gender, and sexual orientation. Pointedly, Justice Alito responded only that "prohibitions on racial discrimination" would be safe from a RFRA exemption claim, but said nothing about gender or LGBT status.

So for far-right activists and legislators concerned about LGBT marriage equality and other rights, Hobby Lobby provided the perfect opportunity: pass state RFRA laws and effectively grant a religious exemption claim from LGBT anti-discrimination laws and local ordinances, based on the Court's re-writing of RFRA's language. Indeed, in communicating with supporters about the Indiana RFRA law, the far-right Family Research Council specifically called it the "Hobby Lobby bill."

Even better, rhetoric directed at outsiders could be cloaked in general language about protecting religious freedom, not attacking LGBT rights. Supporters could even invoke Democratic supporters of RFRA like President Clinton and claim that neither RFRA nor its state counterparts had been interpreted to allow discrimination, as Indiana Gov. Pence has tried to do. These claims ignore the fact that it wasn't until last year that the Supreme Court effectively rewrote the language in RFRA so that it was transformed from a shield for religious liberty into a sword against anti-discrimination protections. And previous supporters like President Clinton have made clear their opposition to this year's state RFRA proposals.

Under pressure, the neutral façade of recent state RFRA proposals has crumbled. When pushed to amend a state RFRA proposal in Georgia to make clear that it could not be used against anti-discrimination ordinances, a Georgia legislator admitted that one of the reasons for the bill was to allow it to be invoked by the small business owner who had religious objections to providing services to an LGBT couple. And when an amendment was added in the Georgia House Judiciary Committee to state that the RFRA bill was not to be used against discrimination laws, the bill was promptly tabled on March 26, with a supporter stating that the amendment would "gut" the bill.

As of now, the fate of RFRA bills in Georgia and elsewhere is uncertain and Gov. Pence has asked the legislature for an amendment to "clarify" that Indiana's RFRA law cannot be used to deny services to anyone. That would be a welcome step - one that flies in the face of the clear intent of some of the bill's backers, which was clearly to enshrine such a "right" for Indiana businesses. Language has been adopted elsewhere to make clear that state RFRAs cannot be used against anti-discrimination bills; such a provision is currently in Texas' RFRA, although there is a proposal to remove it. Before Hobby Lobby, such language might not have been necessary. After Hobby Lobby, it is crucial.


Discrimination Masked as Religious Freedom? Not in My Name.

This op-ed by Rev. Timothy McDonald III, co-chair of People For the American Way's African American Ministers in Action, was originally published at The Huffington Post.

Last week, a bill disguised as a "religious liberty" measure that would give a green light to discrimination was passed by the Georgia Senate and will now go to the House.

As a Baptist pastor, I feel called to weigh in on a proposal that is supposedly designed to protect religious rights in my state. I fully support every person's constitutionally-protected right of the free exercise of religion. The right to pray to whatever God you believe in and freely practice your religion is a fundamental one, and one that must be protected.

But I do not support this bill, which is not a true effort to protect First Amendment rights. And the fact that supporters in the state Senate quickly and unexpectedly brought it up in committee when no Democrats were present makes me wonder if even proponents aren't so sure of its merit.

The proposed bill is modeled on a national religious freedom bill that passed in 1993, and supporters claim that it would shield people of all religions from government intrusion. In reality, this is a bill that threatens to allow businesses and individuals to simply flout the laws they don't like. It threatens to turn "religious liberty" law from a shield to guard individual liberties into a sword to bring harm to others.

For example, what happens if medical workers, citing religious beliefs, decide that they won't treat gay or transgender people? If business owners decide that they won't serve Muslims or interracial couples? If landlords decide they won't rent to single women? Beyond anti-discrimination protections, what happens if individuals or business owners claim they are exempt from any number of laws they disagree with? What happens, for example, if employers decide that paying their workers a minimum wage goes against their religious beliefs? Do we want to live in a society where your legal rights depend on the religious beliefs of others in the community?

Basic rights and equality should never yield to discrimination.

Other religious leaders here in Georgia aren't fooled, either. Working with a group of more than 160 clergy across the state, we have been asking our elected officials to abandon this misguided project, urging them not to pass any so-called "religious freedom" legislation that could lead to widespread discrimination. Handing people the "right" to use the mantle of religious liberty to harm others? Not in our name.

It's clear that rather than fixing a problem, as good public policy should, this bill would create problems, and often for those most vulnerable among us.

Even former state attorney general Michael Bowers, who once fought in favor of anti-gay "sodomy" laws, has called the bill "nothing but an excuse to discriminate," saying it is "ill-conceived, unnecessary, mean-spirited, and deserving of a swift death in the General Assembly."

I agree. My faith tells me that I should stand up for the marginalized. That I should speak out against proposals that could deny basic rights to others -- especially when it's being done in the name of religion.


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.

The Personhood Movement: Where It Comes From And What It Means For The Future Of Choice: Part 1

This is the first post in a RWW series on the reemergence of the anti-choice “personhood” movement and what it means for the future of abortion rights in the U.S.

Part 2: The Personhood Movement: Internal Battles Go Public
Part 3: The Personhood Movement: Undermining Roe In The Courts
Part 4: The Personhood Movement: Regrouping After Defeat

“Welcome to the future of the pro-life movement.”

As a few dozen activists walked into a conference hall in an Atlanta suburb in October 2014, they were met with an optimistic greeting from an impromptu welcoming committee.

It was the founding convention of the Personhood Alliance, an association of anti-abortion groups from 15 states who are determined to wrest back an anti-choice movement that they fear has gone dangerously astray.

The members of the Personhood Alliance felt betrayed.

The largest and best-funded groups opposing abortion rights have, over the past several years, achieved astounding success in chipping away at women’s access to legal abortion in the United States. But these successes, Personhood Alliance’s founders maintain, are too small and have come at a grave cost.

In seeking mainstream approval for anti-choice politics, personhood advocates believe, groups like the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and Americans United for Life (AUL) have adopted a secular tone and downplayed their Christian origins. In focusing on drawing attention to issues like late-term abortion, they may have won some support for the cause but have done little to end the procedures they targeted. In seeking incremental successes, personhood advocates argue, the movement has given up on making a moral argument for the humanity of fertilized eggs and fetuses and lost sight of its larger goal of eliminating legal abortion entirely.

But the greatest betrayal in the eyes of these personhood advocates is the willingness of major anti-choice groups to endorse legislation that includes exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest. The personhood movement’s leaders contend that these political concessions are not only immoral and intellectually inconsistent, but also threaten to undermine the movement’s goals in the long term. In fact, the Personhood Alliance grew out of a feud between Georgia Right to Life leader Daniel Becker and NRLC centered around a rape exception inserted into a national 20-week abortion ban. Becker and his allies believe that they have a better plan, one that does not require compromise.

Joining the activists at the founding conference was Ben DuPré, the chief of staff for Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who, along with his colleague Justice Tom Parker, has outlined an alternate strategy for eliminating legal protections for abortions in the United States: building a body of laws that define fertilized zygotes and fetuses as citizens with full rights under the law.

On the first night of the Personhood Alliance’s founding convention in October, Paul Broun, then a Republican congressman from Georgia, captured the activists’ anger at the leaders of the anti-choice movement, charging that they had betrayed the movement's core principles to such a degree that it had provoked the wrath of God — and implied that they were doing so for personal gain.

Broun told the activists of a meeting he had had with two leaders of NRLC when he was running for U.S. Congress in 1996. He told them that were he elected, the first bill he would introduce would be a Sanctity of Human Life Act giving personhood rights to fertilized eggs, because [that’s] "how we’re going to overturn Roe v. Wade is by giving the right of personhood to that one-celled human being.” The NRLC leaders, Broun said, told him they wouldn’t support it and he “walked away very disillusioned.”

When an audience member asked Broun why he thought NRLC and other major anti-choice groups weren’t putting their energy behind personhood bills, including one that he helped write, Broun responded that he wasn’t “making any accusations here,” but implied that “pro-life” leaders have a financial incentive to never achieve their declared goal.

Harkening back to that 1996 meeting, he drew a historical parallel:

They never told me [why they wouldn’t back the Sanctity of Human Life Act]. I asked them, and they just said, well, we won’t. And I walked away from that meeting in 1996 very, very disappointed, very disillusioned. And shortly after, actually as I was riding away in a taxi cab, it came to mind, back when I was a kid – looking around the room, I’m not sure anybody’s old enough to remember polio – but when I was a kid I had classmates who got polio who were in iron lungs, and I had patients as a doctor, people who when I was in medical school, were people who had polio.

The biggest charity in this country was an organization called March of Dimes. And they were, their executives were, I guess, I’m not sure, but they were making lots of money, March of Dimes was probably the biggest charity in the country. And a doctor by the name of Jonas Salk developed a vaccine. And suddenly, March of Dimes went broke.

And I went away from that meeting with National Right to Life and I was wondering, I still wonder, I’m not making any accusations here: If we were to stop abortion, what would happen to the jobs of all those people who are getting paid every day to be in the pro-life movement? What would happen? I don’t know if that’s what it is or not, I’m not making any accusations, I’m just telling you what my thought was when I left that meeting.

He told the Personhood Alliance that every day that legal abortion continues, America risks God’s wrath. Discussing his 2013 refusal to vote for a 20-week ban to which the House GOP had added a rape exception at the last minute, Broun said:

If we can save some, let's do it, but let's not make exceptions and that some babies are worth killing and some are not. They're all worth saving.

And then it goes back to 'my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,' as we hear [from] Hosea 4:6, and that's the reason education is so important. Because we've got to educate the grassroots.


You see, God is a holy, righteous God. He cannot continue to bless America while we’re killing over a million babies every single day. Abortion must stop.

(Broun's estimate of one million abortions taking place every day is, to say the least, wildly exaggerated.)

Broun argued that groups like the NRLC are selling the movement short by accepting political compromise bills containing rape and incest exceptions and then pressuring anti-choice lawmakers to vote for those bills.

"The reason a lot of pro-life people are willing to compromise is because of that outside pressure," he said. "Whether it's an endorsement from Concerned Women [for America] or the Family Research Council or another group, or it could be an endorsement of the U.S. Chamber [of Commerce] or it could be the endorsement of any group. Politicians, the major principle that they will not budge from is their reelection. So they will do whatever it takes to get the endorsements, the money that they need to raise.”

Barry Loudermilk, a former Georgia Republican state senator who had recently been elected to the U.S. House, also spoke to the convention, comparing the fight against abortion rights to the struggle of America’s founders, who he said also witnessed “a decline in the moral sensitivity of our nation.” Loudermilk, who while serving in the state senate introduced a personhood amendment that was backed by Georgia Right to Life and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, said, “When you look at our movement, we have the exact same things against us that they had against them,” he said. “They had the government against them, the laws, the judges. We don’t have the people who are totally with us, it’s growing. But we have the truth with us. We have Providence with us.”

The congressmen echoed a founding tenet of the Personhood Alliance: that in a movement that was increasingly struggling to appear secular, the organization would be unabashedly “Christ-centered” and “biblically informed.”

As personhood's proponents like to remind their fellow activists, both sides of the movement share the same goal: to completely criminalize abortion. The question is just how to do it.

The largest and best-funded anti-choice groups, deploying a strategy of chipping away at abortion access in the name of “women’s health,” have pushed state legislatures to pass over 200 new restrictions on abortion rights since 2011, many based on model legislation from AUL and NRLC. This strategy has managed to shut down abortion providers (especially in rural areas), make it harder for low-income women to pay for abortion, and erect unnecessary logistical hurdles for even those women who could access and afford abortion care.

The movement also won a pivotal court case with the Supreme Court's ruled that private corporations could deny their employees legally mandated health insurance coverage for contraceptives that the corporations’ owners believe cause abortion. And they did this all while stemming the loss in public opinion that had hindered other “culture war” issues, in part by lifting up female leaders and adopting woman-centered empowerment rhetoric.

But at the same time, another side of the anti-choice movement, those eschewing compromise and incrementalism and pursuing the goal of establishing legal “personhood” from the moment of conception, have suffered a series of embarrassing electoral blows. In 2014, Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that would have defined zygotes and fetuses as persons in the state’s criminal code. It was the third time in six years that voters in the state had rejected a “personhood” measure, although its proponents noted that their margin of defeat got smaller each time. Perhaps even more galling for the movement, voters in reliably conservative North Dakota rejected an amendment to provide constitutional protections for “every being at every stage of development” by a whopping 28-point margin. And this all came three years after a personhood initiative was soundly defeated in deep-red Mississippi.

These personhood measures, while sharing the same ultimate goal as the incremental strategy, have become widely seen as politically toxic, in large part because they could threaten access to common forms of birth control. The no-compromise strategy has also become tied to a series of ham-handed comments made by male politicians, most infamously former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, which further hurt the personhood movement, while providing political cover to those pursuing a more incremental approach.

But despite its spectacular losses at the ballot box, personhood movement strategists maintain that not only is their strategy the morally sound and intellectually consistent one — they believe their strategy is the one that will ultimately swing public opinion and overturn Roe v. Wade.

This series, marking the anniversary of Roe, will explore the recent resurgence of the personhood movement and what it means for the future of abortion rights. Upcoming posts will examine the history of the split in the anti-choice movement and its debates over legal strategy, and the organizations that are currently leading the movement.

Personhood Advocates Come Out Against 20-Week Abortion Ban Because It Includes Rape Exception

Next week’s scheduled House vote on a national 20-week abortion ban, to be held on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, is reviving a bitter public debate within the anti-choice movement about whether to support abortion bans that include exceptions for preganancies resulting from rape or incest.

Even as major anti-choice groups line up to support the 20-week ban, activists in the “personhood” camp of the anti-abortion-rights movement are warning that the ban’s exceptions sell out the movement’s principles.

Back in 2013, when the House Judiciary Committee was debating a 20-week ban based on National Right to Life model legislation, Democrats on the committee tried to amend the bill to add rape and incest exceptions, but were rebuffed by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Trent Franks, who declared that “the instance of rape resulting in pregnancy is very low.”

The Republican-led committee eventually approved the measure without the exceptions, but Franks’ comment had caused such a political firestorm that the House GOP leadership quietly added the exceptions in at the last minute and handed the public leadership on the bill over to a Republican woman, Rep. Marsha Blackburn.

Most of the major national anti-abortion groups didn’t support the added exceptions but backed the ban anyway, and it handily passed the Republican-controlled House. But the addition of the exceptions caused a very public split in the anti-choice movement. Georgia Right to Life, the state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee, urged its state’s representatives in Congress to oppose the bill, a direct repudiation of the national group’s strategy. In return, National Right to Life kicked its Georgia affiliate out of the organization and replaced it with a new group called Georgia Life Alliance. Georgia Right to Life continued to exist as an independent group but also started a new national group called the Personhood Alliance to rival National Right to Life and push for no-exceptions abortion bans.

Now that Blackburn has reintroduced the bill with a rape and incest exception included, the Personhood Alliance and Georgia Right to Life are coming out to oppose it. In a statement yesterday, the Personhood Alliance’s president, Daniel Becker, lambasted Republicans for introducing a “message bill” with what he believes is the wrong message: "This a message bill. The president has already vowed to veto the bill, so why, in a Republican led House and Senate, send out a message that fails to embrace the essence of the pro-life movement."

Georgia Right to Life sounded the same note, saying that abortion bans should “protect all children in the womb who feel pain, not just those conceived by consent”:

"Last Fall, voters sent a clear message that they're fed up with political gamesmanship and lack of courage," [GRTL Executive Director Genevieve] Wilson said. "There's absolutely no need to compromise principles on any bill, especially one that President Obama has already said he will veto."

GRTL supported the 2013 version until an exception for rape and incest was added - which H.R.36 also has. We should pass bills that protect all children in the womb who feel pain, not just those conceived by consent.

Video: The Worst Of The GOP's Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

As President Obama prepares to announce the steps that he will take to provide temporary deportation relief for some undocumented immigrants, it’s important to remember why he’s taking this step. It’s not because Obama and Democrats refuse to work with Republicans to address pressing immigration problems. It’s because a small but influential segment of the Republican caucus refuses to do anything to fix the immigration system.

Today, we at People For the American Way joined with American Bridge to release a video highlighting the kind of rhetoric from congressional Republicans that has sunk any kind of attempt at bipartisan immigration reform.

Some of the examples of anti-immigrant rhetoric from GOP members of Congress will be familiar to RWW readers. And, sadly, we have plenty more where they came from.

How 2014's Elections Will Influence 2016's Voting Rights

Voters across the country trying to cast votes in Tuesday’s elections ran into hurdles erected by Republican legislatures, governors and secretaries of state. Along with mechanical glitches and human error — which occurred in states with leaders on both sides of the political spectrum — voters faced new laws and policies that made it harder to vote.

In Alabama, a last-minute decision by the attorney general barred people from using public housing IDs to vote. Voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas sowed confusion. Georgia lost 40,000 voter registrations, mostly from minorities. In all, the group Election Protection reported receiving 18,000 calls on Election Day, many of them having to do with voter ID laws. The group noted that the flurry of calls represented “a nearly 40 percent increase from 13,000 calls received in 2010.”

In the presidential election year of 2016, it looks unlikely that those problems will subside — especially if Congress fails to restore the Voting Rights Act. The two states that had the closest vote tallies in the last presidential election — Florida and Ohio — will go into the presidential election year with Republicans controlling the offices of governor and secretary of state and holding majorities in their state legislatures.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who won reelection yesterday, will be able to appoint a secretary of state and will enjoy the support of a veto-proof Republican majority in the state House.

In Ohio, controversial Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted won reelection on Tuesday, along with Gov. John Kasich. They’ll be able to work with a strengthened GOP majority in the state legislature.

In North Carolina, where a Republican legislature and governor have cracked down on voting rights, the GOP held onto its majority. Republican secretary of state candidates in the swing states of Colorado, Iowa and Nevada also won elections yesterday.

Two influential elections for voting rights also took place in states unlikely to be presidential swing states. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a national ringleader for advocates of restrictive voting laws, won reelection. In Arizona, which has been working with Kansas to defend their states' respective tough voting requirements, Republican candidate Michele Reagan also won her contest.

One exception to the trend is Pennsylvania, where Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who backed a harsh voter ID law that has since been struck down in the courts, lost to voting rights supporter Tom Wolf. Although Wolf will contend with a Republican majority in the state legislature, he will be able to appoint a secretary of the commonwealth.

PFAW’s Dolores Huerta Energizes Latino Voters in Colorado and Georgia

With Election Day rapidly approaching, get-out-the-vote outreach is heating up in key states across the country. This week, civil rights legend and PFAW board member Dolores Huerta is busy getting out the vote. She’s on the ground with PFAW staff energizing Latino voters in two critical midterm states: Colorado and Georgia.

Yesterday Huerta spoke at two kick-off events in Colorado for local canvassers going door-to-door to get out the vote. The first event, hosted by NextGen Climate Colorado and PFAW, drew scores of enthusiastic canvassers ready to talk to voters about pressing environmental issues and turn people out to the polls.

Later in the day, she met with Latino volunteers and canvassers gearing up to do voter turnout work in their communities – critical work in a state where the Senate race is tight and every vote counts.

Today Huerta has headed to Georgia with other members of the PFAW team to meet with more local organizers, speak at a rally, and encourage local residents to cast their ballots on Tuesday.

As Huerta said yesterday:

The Latino vote can decide the election, as we have done in other states. We need to elect people who are going to protect us – to protect our health, our safety, and work to pass immigration reform. It’s up to each one of us. We need to contact our friends and families to make sure they vote.

Indeed, Latino voters may prove to be decisive in a number of tight races. In both Colorado and Georgia, as well as in four other states with close Senate races, the Latino portion of the electorate is larger than the polling margin between the candidates. PFAW will continue to be on the ground in these states, working to ensure that Latino voters are informed, engaged, and ready to cast a vote on Election Day.


Jody Hice: Obama Administration Turning US Into Nazi Germany

Yesterday, we posted a clip of a 2011 radio program in which Jody Hice, a Republican favored to win retiring Rep. Paul Broun’s U.S. House seat in Georgia, opined that the U.S. public school system is reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

It turns out that’s not the only parallel he sees between America today and Hitler’s regime. In another 2011 program, Hice interviewed Kitty Werthmann, the octogenarian president of the South Dakota Eagle Forum who has spent decades warning that the U.S. is becoming like Nazi Germany, a message that coincidentally caught on in conservative circles about the time that Barack Obama was elected president.

Werthmann, who was a child in Austria when it was annexed by Hitler’s Germany, spent the program going through what she saw as the similarities between that regime and America today, which Hice was eager to agree with.

“The parallels as you’re talking are just incredible with what we are seeing in America,” he said, adding that “like a politician here in America,” Hitler “made all these wonderful promises” before transforming into the “monster you never saw coming.”

“And so, you’ve got the nationalized education, nationalized banking, nationalized press that you alluded to, the nationalized medical care,” Hice said later in the program. “It sounds like you were describing America. And the last thing that you mentioned was the gun control. It sounds like you were describing to us tomorrow’s newspaper here in America. Every one of these issues we’re facing right now.”

“That’s right, that’s why I’m so fearful, it’s going so fast,” Werthmann replied, before warning that Obama’s appointment of “czars” signals the end of democracy.

Georgia Congressional Candidate Jody Hice Doesn't Want Us Listening To His Radio Rants Anymore

This summer, we spent a couple of scintillating days listening the archives of a radio program hosted by Georgia pastor Jody Hice, who won the Republican primary for an open U.S. House seat and is now the favorite to replace outgoing Rep. Paul Broun.

From Hice, we learned that by accepting homosexuality, “we are enslaving and entrapping potentially hundreds of thousands of individuals in a lifestyle that frankly they are not,” that the Sandy Hook and Aurora gun massacres were the result of the separation of church and state, and that we ought to have our “antennas up” that blood moons coinciding with Jewish holidays could signal “world-changing events.”

Soon after we and other outlets started posting clips from Hice’s radio musings, the archives of his programs were removed from his show’s official YouTube page, leaving only a month or so of archived programs for public consumption. But we and others kept listening to Hice’s broadcasts as he posted new ones online, reporting on his views that, for instance, church-state separation causes violence and teen pregnancy and that “government has the responsibility to encourage religious belief.”

But it seems that Hice doesn’t want us listening to his radio show anymore. When we went to his YouTube page this morning to look for a new program, all of his archives had disappeared except for some short year-old broadcasts, and a list of recent programs on his website now leads to dead YouTube links.

We wonder why he’s suddely so shy.

Jody Hice: Secularism Is Turning Government Into God, Destroying America

As if we needed more proof that Rep. Paul Broun’s likely GOP replacement in the House, Georgia pastor and activist Jody Hice, will be just as enthusiastic a Christian-nation advocate as his predecessor, we stumbled across this clip from a 2011 broadcast of Hice’s radio show in which he laments that the separation of church and state is turning government into God and thereby destroying America:

“The more we remove God individually from our lives or culturally, the more secular we will become, which means that in place of God we’re going to set ourselves up or we will set up the state, the government, to fulfill the role of God,” Hice opined.

“That’s the only option is that’s what happens, and that precisely is why secularism is not, cannot, be neutral,” he continued. “Secularism, the belief system in itself, by doing away with God in turn sets itself up as God, either as an individual or as a government. That’s where we’re moving. And we are experiencing what we are experiencing in this country simply because of our continual drifting away from our Judeo-Christian principles, drifting away from our awareness and understanding and belief in God for so long that now we are reaping the consequences.”

Jody Hice: Public Schools Reminiscent Of Nazi Germany

Jody Hice, the GOP nominee for an open House seat in Georgia, said on his radio program in 2011 that “totalitarian” liberals have turned public schools into “camps for indoctrination,” a strategy he likened to Nazi Germany.

Hice launched into his commentary by citing a similar argument made by Chuck Norris in WorldNetDaily before adding his own spin to the issue.

Hice seems to imply that the very existence of public schools is a Nazi-like scheme, but that liberals in particular are trying to maintain their “clutch” on public schools in order to control “the minds of children” and raise money from teachers’ unions:

Obviously, if we have government — which is what the public school is — if we have government indoctrinating what students are learning, then we have a problem. This took place in Germany, friends. I’m not trying to say we are necessarily headed in that direction, but it is undeniable that one of the first things Hitler did was to grab, so to speak, the minds of the youth. And once he was able to instill in those young minds his own ideals and his own philosophy and that of the Nazi Party, then the rest of it was pretty much a piece of cake. It was a cakewalk to go through once you had the minds of the schoolchildren at every age level.

It is likewise just as dangerous what we are witnessing today. And it’s obvious that the liberals in this country are going to be fighting tooth and nail to protect the public school system from getting out from underneath their total, absolute, totalitarian control. If it gets out of their control, they not only lose the minds of the children in this country, but they also lose enormous financial resources, as the teachers’ unions are the number one biggest supporter politically to liberal ideology. So there’s a lot at stake for the liberals to continue their clutch on the public school system.

Later in the program, Hice elaborated on his concerns, citing a book lamenting “political correctness" on college campuses to warn that public schools are training students to “disdain America” and to defend homosexuality and “the green agendas.”

“What happens when our schools become just nothing other than liberal – or, soften it up a little, progressive – camps for indoctrination, which in essence is what they have become?” he asked.

He warned that schools are engaging in “the intentional training of students to dislike, to actually disdain America” and “encouraging students to freely experiment with all forms of sexuality, forcefully defend issues like abortion and homosexuality and also just encouraging students to become cultural advocates for political correctness, and there’s no tolerance for political incorrectness.”

“There’s the push for relativism, for globalization, for environmental agendas, the green agendas and tolerance for everybody,” he continued. “All of this stuff is now being pushed upon children in the public school system.”

PFAW Releases New Spanish-Language Ad Challenging Deal and Perdue in Georgia

Today People For the American Way released its most recent Spanish-language TV ad highlighting the troubling records of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and GOP Senate candidate David Perdue on employment issues. The ad will air starting today in Atlanta. Two weeks ago, PFAW launched an ad challenging Deal and Perdue on their dangerous agendas on immigration, education, and the minimum wage.

“David Perdue says he’s proud of his record of outsourcing jobs, but firing thousands of workers is nothing to be proud of,” said Randy Borntrager, political director of People For the American Way. “Both Perdue and Deal have been on the wrong side of issues affecting working families across the state. We’re making sure Latino voters in Georgia know about the Republican candidates’ alarming right-wing records.”

The most recent census estimates show that people who identify as Hispanic or Latino now represent more than 9 percent of Georgia’s population. This growing community could very well play a major role in deciding who wins the state’s close elections.

This ad push is the latest step in People For the American Way’s multi-year, nationwide campaign to engage Latino voters in key states by shedding light on the agendas of GOP candidates on issues ranging from immigration to education to the environment. PFAW also recently began running Spanish-language ads in North Carolina and Colorado.

The script of the ad reads:

Sabemos lo que es ganarse la vida honradamente. Pero los republicanos tienen un concepto muy diferente.

David Perdue ha explotado y ha despedido a miles de trabajadores. Y que dijo al respecto? “I’m proud of it.”

Y gracias al gobernador Deal, Georgia tiene la tasa de desempleo mas alta del país.

Estos republicanos no comparten nuestros valores. Votemos contra ellos el 4 de noviembre.

VO Disclaimer:
People For the American Way es responsable por el contenido de este anuncio.

English translation:

We know the value of hard work. But Republicans have a very different view of ‘hard work.’

David Perdue has exploited workers and fired thousands. And what did he say about that? “I’m proud of it.”

And thanks to Governor Deal, Georgia has the highest unemployment rate in the nation.

These Republicans don’t share our values. That’s why we must vote against the Republicans on November 4th!

VO Disclaimer:
People For the American Way is responsible for the content of this advertising.


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