Note: This post contains some material published earlier on this blog. It is posted here as the electronic version of today’s AJC column.
On their July primary ballot, Georgia Republican voters were confronted with a question chock full of political implications. It read:
“Do you support an amendment to the Georgia state constitution so as to provide that the paramount right to life is vested in each human being from the earliest biological beginning until natural death?”
At first glance, it poses two questions: Do you believe that human life begins at the moment of conception — “the earliest biological beginnings” — and do you believe that definition ought to be enshrined in the state constitution? The question was advisory only, but Georgia Right to Life and other pro-life advocates want to put the same question in binding form to voters in the 2014 general election.
Results of the primary gave GRTL just the political leverage it was seeking, with Republican voters backing the notion by an almost 2-1 margin.
The push to define life as beginning with conception is part of the so-called personhood movement, which is pushing Republican politics further and further to the right on the abortion question. If a fertilized egg is defined legally as human life, as the personhood movement insists, then abortion must be banned in almost every case, including cases involving rape and incest. And that’s increasingly the mainstream GOP position on the issue.
Every major candidate for the GOP presidential nomination embraced the so-called personhood position, with the possible exception of Mitt Romney. In the national GOP party platform approved Tuesday, the anti-abortion plank makes no mention of an exception for rape or incest.
Romney’s running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, is a strong supporter of the policy. Given the power to do so, he would ban abortion in almost every instance, including the estimated 30,000 pregnancies a year in this country that result from rape. (The sole exception would be to save the live of the mother.)
That is also the position of U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate who got in hot water this week for the extremely clumsy, callous way in which he defended barring abortion even in cases of “legitimate rape.” In fact, Akin and Ryan are co-sponsors of a federal version of personhood legislation. The primary sponsor of that bill is U.S. Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia; other co-sponsors include Georgia congressmen Phil Gingrey, Lynn Westmoreland and Jack Kingston.
Given the rather rapid shift of opinion within the Republican Party, the position of its presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, becomes critically important. And as on many other issues, Romney’s position varies depending on the time, place and audience. The official position of the one-time pro-choice candidate is that he would continue to allow abortion in cases of rape and incest. However, he has also expressed support for the personhood approach and said that he believes life begins at conception.
He has also said that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, the question of abortion ought to be left to the states to decide, but in that same statement he said that as president, he would be “delighted” to sign a bill outlawing all abortion nationwide.
In other words, women who would count on the malleable Romney to stand up against more extreme elements of his party are putting much too much confidence in him.
Personally, I do not have an ironclad answer to when human life begins. That question has been answered various ways over the eons by a lot of intelligent people, without consensus. The position of the Catholic Church, for example, has varied widely over time.
As a father of two daughters, as a husband who went through a miscarriage with my wife, as a journalist who watched awestruck as a technician inserted a sperm into an egg in a fertility clinic, I simply don’t know. Even if I thought I knew, I am not arrogant enough to think I have the right to impose my answer on others.
However, I can tell you that while I thought it was a pretty cool to witness in vitro fertilization, I did not come away thinking of that fertilized egg as a human being. When I learned that my wife was pregnant, I did not think of myself as a father at that instant, but as someone who was going to become a father.
Given all that, the compromise inherent in Roe v. Wade seems a reasonable political and legal answer to a tough conundrum, and that compromise is in serious danger of being overturned.
– Jay Bookman