“Personhood” Is The Symptom, Not The Problem

GOP Reps. Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman.

GOP Reps. Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman.

AP's David Espo takes a high-level look at the last few remarkable days of Colorado politics:

Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, moving toward the middle in a Senate race with national stakes, said Tuesday he abandoned his longtime support for measures giving legal rights to fertilized human eggs because it is a "settled issue" at home in Colorado…

Gardner's switch comes as Republicans nationally seek to win control of the Senate in this fall's elections. They hope to avoid a repeat of defeats in 2010 and 2012 in Colorado and elsewhere when their candidates lost apparently winnable races because they appeared too extreme on abortion and other issues for mainstream, moderate voters.

…Jennifer Mason of Personhood USA, which sponsored the personhood initiatives, expressed dismay at his shift. "He was elected to his position by pro-personhood, pro-life voters. It's pretty shocking," she said.

Gardner made his comments as a second Colorado Republican in Congress, Rep. Mike Coffman, also jettisoned his support for personhood proposals.

The decision by U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner and Rep. Mike Coffman whether or not abandon their prior support for the "Personhood" abortion ban measures involved the risk of massive, perhaps lethal political damage no matter which way they came down. To attempt to defend their support of these measures, would would have banned all abortions even in cases of rape or incest–and even some forms of "abortifacient" birth control–would have likely been political suicide. But by ripping the scab of an issue that smart Republican strategists wish would just go away completely, forcing other Republicans into the unwelcome spotlight with their flip-flopping…it's arguable that just as much damage has been done.

Because when you get past the defensive bluster, it's not about "Personhood." It's about banning abortion.

The possibility that the one-sentence Personhood amendments might have "unintended consequences" like banning certain forms of birth control was used unsuccessfully by Ken Buck in 2010 as an excuse to flip-flop, just as Gardner has now done four years later. But between 2010 and today, Gardner sponsored Personhood legislation in Congress with all of the same "unintended consequences"–that being the term of choice for Coffman's campaign explaining his flip-flop on the issue this week. And while we don't want to minimize the extreme nature of a ban on birth control, this excuse seems to be an attempt to distract from the real problem.

Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman both have explicitly supported a total ban on abortion even in cases of rape or incest during their political careers, entirely unconnected to the Personhood amendments. They may have flip-flopped on a specific policy measure which serviced the goal of banning all abortions, but other than Gardner's absurd denial in Lynn Bartels' original story, we've not seen any further engagement on the larger issue:

Gardner said he stepped forward because Udall and his allies have spent the last three weeks "distorting my record." Among the "lies," he said: claiming that he opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest. [Pols emphasis]

Folks, as the record shows clearly, that charge is not a lie. There's no question that in the past, both Gardner and Coffman were willing to detail their opposition to abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Personhood is serving as an escape hatch for both of these men from bigger questions about the issue of abortion, and Democrats should not let that be the last word. In a state as historically pro-choice as Colorado, with the recent electoral history in our state clearly showing that abortion bans are not what the voters want, flip-flopping on the Personhood amendments without context isn't enough.

Unless this really is all a cheap semantic game? Let's poll some Colorado women voters and find out.

27 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Davie says:

    Agreed — put metaphorically, just because the scorpion chooses not to strike the frog crossing the river this time, doesn't mean they won't when given another chance.


  2. Craig says:

    You know, if he changed his opinion on this because the "people have spoken," then I suppose he's now against school vouchers (people spoke twice about this), for partial birth abortions (people and legislature voted to allow this to continue), for marijuana legalization (people voted for this), and for background checks, even at gun shows (people voted for this).  Yeah right.  What a stupid argument.  He does think we are stupid.  This has to stand as one of the all time, flat out lies in a campaign, not to mention just a stupid idea.  If the people voted to discriminate against Hispanics, would he be in favor of that too?  Come on Gardner, get a brain.  Oh, I forgot.  "Republicans" today don't want legislators with a brain, they want pretty boys who talk nice and never buck the party line.  And that's exactly what they've got with Gardner.  Talk about a light-weight.

  3. Progressicat says:

    When someone finally does get to ask them the question, make sure you ask the right one.  "Do you oppose abortion in case x and y?" isn't it.  I can oppose something and agree to a "compromise."  The right question, I think, is more like "Would you vote against any legislation limiting abortion that fails to allow abortions for women who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest or whose pregnancy puts their health in jeopardy?"

  4. mamajama55 says:

    Craig is right – Gardener and Coffman are merely showing their contempt for their base, and for all of the voters in their districts. They are showing their belief that their constituents are too stupid to look up their records, or too apathetic to care.

    This assumption may be partly correct –   they may actually get a few more moderate voters by repudiating Personhood. It won't be enough to get them elected, nor to offset the effects of pissing off their enthusiastic pro-life volunteers.

    I always understood that part of the rationale for a candidate to be strongly "pro-life" was because  that stance guaranteed a steady supply of passionate volunteers and donations.  Maybe now, with the Koch money, these candidates have enough to pay canvassers – but if I were one of those pro-life volunteers, I'd feel betrayed right now.

  5. horseshit GOP front group says:

    You can disagree with Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman and say what you want about them, but you can't say they aren't real men of principle.  Standing firm for your beliefs is what true leadership is all about.

  6. Diogenesdemar says:


     This one issue is the symptom — because, believe it or not (. . .  and, who would just reading this site of late?), there's a small chance that there might be at least one other issue in one or two of these races. 

  7. Moderatus says:

    Au contrare, Colorado Pols. Personhood did have unintended consequences, and there are plenty of pro life Republicans who agree. The birth control red herring for Personhood was useful to Democrats for awhile, now it's not anymore. If you try to move the argument to abortion itself, you'll find you have far less support.

    I know Democrats want to keep this non story going, but you're about to run out of rope.

    • langelomisterioso says:

       Moddy-I'm still trying to figure out what "pro-life"means to the typical con it sure doesn't mean opposition to wars or capital punishment. There might be less support for pro-choice measures than any opposing this particular bad idea,but there's still more support for pro-choice than most cons wish there were.This story stays current as long as Gardner is a candidate.

    • Gilpin Guy says:

      Moldy this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Both Gardner and Coffman have long records of advocating EXTREME positions and policies to their inbred constituencies including Birtherism and are going get absolutely hammered over the coming months on their out of the mainstream pasts.  In six months the Affordable Care Act with be accepted by the mainstream constituencies and unrepealable so Republicans are going to look really bitchy continuing to whine about it.  They are going to look like fools advocating denying children with pre-existing health conditions affordable health care.

    • DawnPatrol says:

      As usual, your words are meaningless and devoid of truth.

      But the French was a nice touch. Freedom Fry?

  8. Davie says:

    History lesson on Personhood and Conservative Evangelical believes:

    “God Does Not Regard the Fetus as a Soul”

    Conservative evangelicals didn’t always care much about abortion or contraception. The strange story of how they came to be obsessed with them.


    This was the view of the Southern Baptist Convention before Roe v. Wade:

    “God does not regard the fetus as a soul no matter how far gestation has progressed,” wrote professor Bruce Waltke of Dallas Theological Seminary in a 1968 issue of Christianity Today on contraception and abortion, edited by Harold Lindsell, a then-famous champion of biblical “inerrancy.” His argument rested on the Hebrew Bible, “[A]ccording to Exodus 21:22–24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense. … Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.”

    By the time Reagan was running for the presidency, that had changed:

    What happened to cause this sea change in attitudes toward fetal life and abortion among evangelicals? In short, politics, and in particular, the successful coalition-building of Jerry Falwell, Paul Weyrich, and other Christian conservatives in the wake of Roe v. Wade.

    • ElliotFladen says:

      The great scholar Rashi specifically rebuked the personhood position centuries ago.  See commentary for Exodus 21:22


      "22. And should men quarrel and hit a pregnant woman, and she miscarries but there is no fatality, he shall surely be punished, when the woman's husband makes demands of him, and he shall give [restitution] according to the judges' [orders].         כב. וְכִי יִנָּצוּ אֲנָשִׁים וְנָגְפוּ אִשָּׁה הָרָה וְיָצְאוּ יְלָדֶיהָ וְלֹא יִהְיֶה אָסוֹן עָנוֹשׁ יֵעָנֵשׁ כַּאֲשֶׁר יָשִׁית עָלָיו בַּעַל הָאִשָּׁה וְנָתַן בִּפְלִלִים:
      And should men quarrel: with one another, and [one] intended to strike his fellow, and [instead] struck a woman. [From Sanh. 79a]
      וכי ינצו אנשים: זה עם זה, ונתכוין להכות את חבירו והכה את האשה:
      and hit a pregnant woman: Heb. נְגִיפָה וְנָגְפוּ is only an expression of pushing and striking, as [in the following phrases:] “lest you strike ךְתִּגֹף your foot with a stone” (Ps. 91:12); “and before your feet are bruised (יִתְנְַָפוּ) ” (Jer. 13:16); “and a stone upon which to dash oneself (נֶגֶף) ” (Isa. 8:14).
      ונגפו: אין נגיפה אלא לשון דחיפה והכאה, כמו (תהלים צא יב) פן תגוף באבן רגלך, (ירמיה יג טז) ובטרם יתנגפו רגליכם, (ישעיה ח יד) ולאבן נגף:
      but there is no fatality: with the woman. -[From Sanh. 79a, Jonathan]"

      • BlueCat says:

        Personally, I don't see the relevance of ancient religious writings(especially this garbled mess. What's that about bruised feet?) or any particular religion's theology. In our system the state has no religion and isn't allowed to impose any religious views on anyone.

      • mamajama55 says:

        I think this is interesting. I'd heard that before , that there were no biblical, nor Torah (Toric?) prohibitions against abortion. (If there is a miscarriage but the woman doesn't die, there is no fatality).  It's relevant because it does kind of blow out the religious arguments against abortion. In case I ever argue abortion with a religious person again, which Goddess forbid I should have to.


        BC is also correct that we have to deal in the here and now, with laws and lobbyists. To me, the abortion question still comes down to: Yes, there may be a "fatality". The life begun will not continue. Still, the mother knows the circumstances of her own life and is in the best postion to judge whether that little life should continue, if it will harm the family already born.

        • BlueCat says:

          Just FYI, in the most specific sense the Torah is the first five books of the bible, the five books of Moses, so it is biblical. Sometimes the word is used in a broader sense to refer to all of what Christians would call the Old Testament which is the entire bible for Jews in addition to which there are the commentaries, etc. Here's a brief Judaism 101 clarification:


          I'm no biblical scholar but I know from my parents and immigrant grandparents' that the traditions of their eastern European Jewish culture made abortion permissible until quickening, when the  mother can feel the baby moving, after which it was no longer allowed. Couldn't tell you if it says anything like that in the bible or not. There are lots of non-biblical traditions. 

          I just mention the tradition on abortion as a point of interest. Naturally the state has no more business basing laws on my ancestral culture's folk traditions than it has to base them on somebody's interpretation of Christian theology.  


  9. dwyer says:

    The basis for the legal right to abortion, with restrictions beginning in the second trimester depending on specific state law, is the Constitution of the United States.  It not the Bible, the Torah, nor any other religious or philosophical writing.  Granted, the medieval meanderings of the judges in Roe 

    v. Wade confused the issue and led, in part, to endless and pointless discussions.  I don't believe, to their credit, that the word "personhood" was even mentioned in the Roe decision.

    But, it seems to me that if you are pro-life; you would automatically be totally in favor of the most effective birth control available.  As to what that would be, it would seem to me you would need medical opinion, not legal.  But, then, the angels dancing on the head of the pin have been strangely silent.

    • DaftPunk says:

      Wrong again.

      "[Texas] argues that the fetus is a ‘person' within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment…If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case (or Roe's case) collapses, for the fetus' right to life is then guaranteed by the 14th Amendment."

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