‘Personhood’ battle looms

The Washington PostApril 21, 2014 

Some of the most hard-fought Senate races this fall are likely to feature big fights over “personhood.”

A number of GOP Senate candidates, many of whom are still in primary races, are on record supporting measures that declare, in some form, that full human rights begin at the moment of fertilization. Once the general election races get underway, Democrats are likely to attack Republicans over this – broadening the battle for female voters beyond issues such as pay equity to include an emotionally fraught cultural argument that Democrats have previously used to their advantage.

This has already appeared in Colorado. Republican Rep. Cory Gardner renounced his previous support for personhood after entering the Senate contest, admitting that it “restricts contraception.” Democrats seized on the reversal to argue that Gardner supports protecting women’s health only when politically necessary.

Gardner co-sponsored the Life at Conception Act, which provides for constitutional protection of the right to life of each “preborn human person,” defined as existing from the “moment of fertilization.”

Co-sponsors of the act include Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Rep. Steve Daines of Montana, both of whom are expected to become their state’s GOP Senate nominee. Meanwhile, McClatchy reports, three leading GOP Senate candidates in North Carolina – Thom Tillis, Greg Brannon and Mark Harris – favor a “personhood” constitutional amendment that would “grant legal protections to a fertilized human egg and possibly ban some forms of birth control.”

In Georgia, three top Senate candidates – Reps. Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston – co-sponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act, which gives “full human rights to human zygotes from the moment of fertilization,” according to a Huffington Post report. In Iowa, Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst – who is running against Bruce Braley, D – supported a “personhood” amendment to the state constitution. In Michigan, Terri Lynn Land didn’t mention rape or incest as exceptions to her antiabortion stance in an interview with Politico. In Louisiana, Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy – who is running against Sen. Mary Landrieu, D – was marked down by the Louisiana Family Forum as opposing abortion in cases of rape and incest (a spokesperson said he is “staunchly pro life”).

Democrats are more likely to make an issue of this in North Carolina, Montana, Iowa and Michigan than in more conservative Georgia, Arkansas and Louisiana. Virginia’s 2012 Senate race may be a model: Democrats savaged Republican George Allen with ads highlighting his support for personhood legislation, suggesting he would infringe on women’s rights and jeopardize their health in service of a hidebound, reactionary agenda.

Jennifer Duffy of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report told me Democrats are likely to use personhood to appeal to “moderate Republican-leaning women who tend to vote against the GOP on this issue” – even as they push a women’s economic agenda designed to boost core turnout. “Part of the point is to get them to show up. If this issue drives them to the polls, they’re not voting for Republicans.”

Democrats have been counting on Obamacare receding as an issue and have been pushing to broaden the conversation to women’s economic issues. It’s possible that the health-care law will continue to fade from the headlines and that the focus on women’s health and reproductive issues will intensify.

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