For an example of the dilemma that today’s Republican Party finds itself in when it comes to abortion rights and radical “personhood” laws, look no further than Mitt Romney.
After running as a pro-choice Republican in Massachusetts, Romney transformed into a “severely conservative,” anti-choice presidential candidate, then ultimately came full circle when he closed out his 2012 campaign with TV ads trumpeting his support for abortion rights in certain cases.
Perhaps Romney’s advisers figured out that the candidate’s opposition to abortion rights would prove unpopular among the general electorate. Exit polls in 2012 showed that 59 percent of voters supported legal abortion.
It turned out that Romney’s professed commitment to “get rid” of Planned Parenthood and pledges to support state and national “personhood amendments” — which would ban abortion in all cases and also outlaw common forms of birth control by giving personhood rights to zygotes — weren’t exactly winning positions.
Several Republican politicians in this election cycle have followed Romney’s lead by painstakingly trying to paint themselves as the real pro-choice candidates, despite having a long history of opposing abortion rights. Still others are flat-out denying that they support extreme anti-choice legislation like ‘personhood’ bills…even when they are on the record supporting them.
Take Cory Gardner, the congressman running for U.S. Senate in Colorado, for instance.
With the personhood amendment on the Colorado ballot for the fourth time this year, it must have been just a coincidence that Gardner renounced his support for the unpopular measure just three weeks after he announced his U.S. Senate bid. In his previous races for the U.S. House, Gardner boasted of circulating petitions in favor of the personhood amendment, and as a congressman he cosponsored a federal personhood bill.
Despite claiming that he is now a personhood opponent, Gardner remains to this day a cosponsor of the federal personhood legislation.
Instead of explaining the discrepancy, Gardner just claims that the personhood bill he is cosponsoring, the “Life at Conception Act,” simply doesn’t exist. As one journalist interviewing Gardner pointed out, he seems to be alone in that view: supporters and opponents of the personhood movement alike, including the authors of the bill in question, disagree with his unique reading of the bill.
“We don’t see how the Colorado initiative and the federal bill, which supporters in Congress describe as a ‘personhood’ measure, are different on this point,” FactCheck.org reports, noting that even a spokesman for Personhood USA said “there’s no reason for [Gardner] to pull local support while he’s still 100 percent behind the federal amendment.”
Another personhood group, the National Pro-Life Alliance, similarly promotes [PDF] the “Life at Conception Act” because it “is legislation that, quite simply, would declare the unborn to be ‘persons’ under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution” and would ensure that “Roe v. Wade would be effectively reversed.”
When pressed on the issue in a debate, Gardner simply avoided the question.
As Gardner’s candidacy’s proves, sometimes it is easier to just make blatantly false statements about your position than to actually change it.
Taking a page from Gardner, Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst has also resorted to rewriting history about her record on personhood.
Ernst supported a personhood amendment in the Iowa legislature and recently committed to cosponsoring a federal personhood bill if elected. When called out by her Democratic opponent for backing a state personhood amendment, Ernst falsely claimed that it was merely a symbolic measure.
As Ed Kilgore writes, politicians like Gardner and Ernst are just trying “to weasel out of such positions the moment they become inconvenient.”
Other Republican Life at Conception Act cosponsors in the House, including Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Steve Daines of Montana, are also running for seats in the U.S. Senate. North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis also pledged to support a personhood amendment.
Tillis and Gardner, like other Republicans who are trying to come across as reproductive rights supporters, are now highlighting their support for the over-the-counter sale of birth control, which actual reproductive health activists note will actually make birth control more expensive.
Meanwhile, as personhood supporters these Republicans are backing laws that would ban several forms of contraception that they claim to want to make more accessible.
As Republicans face pressure from their anti-choice base to endorse radical “personhood” measures, they are faced with a choice: alienate staunch anti-choice conservatives or turn off moderates. Many, like Gardner and Ernst, are apparently finding that it’s easier to just lie to voters than to defend their views.