The issue isn’t being discussed at all by Washington prognosticators these days. But you can bet that some of the most hard fought Senate races this fall will feature big fights over “Personhood” measures, which have declared that full human rights begin at the moment of fertilization.
A number of GOP Senate candidates are on record supporting Personhood in some form. Once primary season is over, and the Senate general elections get underway in earnest, you are likely to see Democrats attack Republicans over the issue — broadening the battle for female voters beyond issues such as pay equity to include an emotionally fraught cultural argument that Dems have used to their advantage in the past.
This has already appeared in the Colorado Senate race, but it will likely become an issue in other races, too. In Colorado, the Republican candidate, GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, renounced his previous support for Personhood after entering the contest, admitting it would “restrict contraception,” but Dems seized on the reversal to argue that Gardner only supports protecting women’s health 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.” The Pro-Life Alliance describes this as a “Personhood” measure.
Other GOP Senate candidates are on record in similar fashion. Co-sponsors of the Life at Conception Act include Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Rep. Steve Daines of Montana, both expected general election candidates. Meanwhile, according to McClatchy, three leading GOP Senate candidates in North Carolina — Thom Tillis, Greg Brannon, and Mark Harris — all 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 — all co-sponsored the “Sanctity of Human Life Act,” which gives “full human rights to human zygotes from the moment of fertilization,” as Laura Bassett puts it. In Iowa, state senator Joni Ernst — who is running against Dem Bruce Braley — supported a “Personhood” amendment to the state constitution. In Michigan, Terri Lynn Land didn’t mention rape or incest as exceptions to her anti-abortion stance in an interview with Politico. In Louisiana, Rep. Bill Cassidy — who is running against Mary Landrieu — 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”).
I’ve emailed most of the above candidates to get clarification of their positions, and will update if I hear back.
It’s more likely that Dems will make an issue of this in states like North Carolina, Montana, Iowa, and Michigan than Georgia, Arkansas and Louisiana, but keep an eye out for it. One model to look to is the 2012 Virginia Senate race, when 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.
Asked for comment, NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring highlighted a Gallup poll showing a majority name the economy as the most important problem facing the country. “If Democratic Senators and candidates want to spend the next six months talking about everything BUT what people care most about — good jobs, growing the economy, and fixing a broken Washington — they do so at their own peril,” Dayspring said. “Democratic candidates are terrified of being associated with the Obama record, so it doesn’t leave them with much to say.”
Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the non-partisan Cook Political Report, tells me Dems will likely use Personhood to appeal to persuadable GOP-leaning women — even as they push a women’s economic agenda designed to boost core turnout among female base voters.
“Democrats will use this to appeal to women beyond their natural base — moderate Republican-leaning women who tend to vote against the GOP on this issue,” Duffy said. “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.”
Dems have been banking Obamacare receding as an issue as enrollment mounts, and have been pushing to broaden the conversation to women’s economic issues. It’s possible the health law will continue to fade from the headlines, and you’ll see the focus on women’s health and reproductive issues intensify. A key part of this effort will be Personhood.