"Personhood" Begins When You Run for Senate

"Personhood" Begins When You Run for Senate
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OK, the race has now officially begun. Cory Gardner has had his first battle with himself — or with his voting record, anyway — and let’s just say it could have gone better. On Friday afternoon, he made the big reveal — that he would no longer support “personhood” because, well, he had no choice politically.

That’s not what he said, of course. But that’s what he meant. And the problem for him is that, in this case, everyone knows it. That he’s getting hammered from both left and right probably doesn’t surprise him. That the story is not going to go away — that may be a little harder to take.

All politicians have to make political decisions in which they compromise their beliefs — that is, if they have the misfortune to have any. It’s part of the job. That’s why every candidate is eventually accused of flip-flopping. Some (see: Bob, Both Ways) handle it less well than others. 

But this was different. This was fundamental. This was about life and how it should be defined — from-your-core stuff, theological, philosophical, belief-system stuff, believe-it-so-much-you-pass-out-petitions-at-church stuff.

It’s basic, who-you-are stuff.

And so who is Cory Gardner?

He’s the guy who, about two minutes after he got in the U.S. Senate race, about 10 seconds after he basically cleared the Republican primary field, changed his long-held position on “personhood” as if he were changing socks.

His explanation to ace reporter Lynn Bartels for the switch was that he had misunderstood the whole “personhood” debate, which defines life at conception and would basically outlaw abortion and emergency contraception even after rape and leave open what can be done in case of miscarriage. It would outlaw if passed — and, of course, it would never pass — certain kinds of common contraception.

Even though Gardner was running for Congress and the issue was on the ballot and it was being widely discussed and he was passing out petitions in support of the personhood amendment and everyone else in Colorado knew what the amendment would do, Gardner says he somehow didn’t understand the bit about contraception.

Now this makes him either not too bright or not too curious or not too honest — and since he is both bright and curious, you can see the difficulty. At minimum, you’d think Gardner would have investigated an issue he was so intently supporting. At minimum, you’d think someone on his staff would have tipped him off.

When asked, Gardner said he began thinking about changing his mind after the 2010 election when voters rejected the amendment nearly 3-to-1. That seemed like a reasonable explanation for a politician. When voters reject something you support 3-to-1, it’s often wise to get on the other side of the issue — or at least stop talking about it.

And yet since that time, Gardner twice co-sponsored federal personhood-like bills in the House, one also sponsored by Rand Paul in the Senate, known as the Life Begins at Conception Act. In other words, even as Gardner was apparently mulling whether to change his mind on personhood, he was signing on to co-sponsor personhood legislation.

When Gardner’s campaign told Bartels that the Life Begins at Conception Act wasn’t really personhood, I thought maybe I was the one who misunderstood. And since I didn’t want to be accused of being either not too bright or not too curious or not too honest, I looked up HR 374.

Guess what: The bill says its purpose is to “implement equal protection under the 14th article of amendment to the Constitution for the right to life of each born and preborn human person.”

Yes, a right to life of each born and preborn human person.

And if you’re wondering about the bill’s definition of “human person,” it offers up this:

(1) HUMAN PERSON; HUMAN BEING- The terms 'human person’ and 'human being’ include each and every 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.

Yes, each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization …


Its supporters say it is. For example, Duncan Hunter, one of the co-sponsors, says it would outlaw abortion and effectively overturn Roe v. Wade. So does the National Pro-Life Alliance. The bill does say there will be exceptions in the case of the life of the mother. It doesn’t say there will be any others.

Still, Gardner, who remains solidly anti-abortion, has accused the Udall campaign of “distorting” his position on abortion and telling “lies” about him. This may be where his real mistake lies. This is the kind of move that keeps issues alive. This is what gives pro-Udall Super PACs the chance to run ads asking who’s doing the lying.

I looked for Gardner’s position in cases of rape and incest. This is a pretty major distinction in the pro-life world.

Either you are for the big-three exceptions or for some of the exceptions or you’re not. But I looked for Gardner’s position and strangely couldn’t find any mention of it. It must be out there somewhere.

But whatever he might have said, it’s difficult to say the Democrats are distorting your position when you’ve supported adding “personhood” to the state constitution and when you’ve supported “Life Begins at Conception” bills in Congress and when, as a state representative, you sponsored a bill that would have outlawed abortion in Colorado — and when, as it happens, none of those amendments or bills allowed for exceptions in the case of rape or incest.

And so, Gardner has clearly struck the first blow. We’ll have to see how long it takes him to recover. 

This article was originally published in The Colorado Independent, where Mike Littwin writes about Colorado and national politics. 

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