12.28.11

Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann, and Santorum Go Extreme on Abortion

At a Personhood USA ‘tele-town hall,’ Perry, Gingrich, Bachmann, and Santorum commit to banning all abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, and threats to a woman’s health, showing that a hard line is now the norm among the GOP’s presidential contenders.

In November, when the personhood movement tried to pass a ballot initiative in Mississippi defining a fertilized egg as a human being, it lost by 58 percent. It was a staggering defeat in one of the country’s reddest states, and a sign of just how extreme personhood is.

That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s too extreme for the Republican presidential field. Last night, four GOP candidates—Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry—took part in a “tele-town hall” sponsored by Personhood USA, which was broadcast on the radio program of Steve Deace, an influential Iowa evangelical.  The event demonstrated that a commitment to banning all abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, and threats to a woman’s health, is now the normative position among the party’s presidential contenders.

Indeed, the big news to come out of the forum was the rightward shift in Rick Perry’s already very conservative position. In the past, Perry has been committed to banning abortion with very narrow exceptions. But last night, he said he’d changed his mind, and now doesn’t support any exceptions at all. “This is something that is relatively new,” he said, citing a meeting with Rebecca Kiessling, a spokeswoman for Personhood USA who was adopted after her mother, a rape victim, tried and failed to abort her. “Looking in her eyes, I couldn’t come up with an answer to defend the exemptions for rape and incest,” he said. “And over the course of the last few weeks, the Christmas holidays and reflecting on that…all I can say is that God was working on my heart.”

Each of the candidates, who spoke separately and took a couple of questions each, took the same hard-line position. The differences were on the margins. Bachmann distinguished herself with her dishonesty, claiming at one point that Obama is “putting abortion pills for young minors, girls as young as 8 years of age or 11 years of age, on [the] bubblegum aisle.” (Obama, of course, recently overrode an FDA recommendation to make emergency contraception available over the counter for all ages, infuriating women’s-health activists.)

Rather than overturn Roe v. Wade, Newt proposes to overturn the entire system of judicial review.

Gingrich sounded rather more rational, but his argument may have been the most radical of the four. In response to a question about how he would respond to a Supreme Court ruling against a personhood law, he insisted that the legislative and executive branches can “rebalance the judiciary.” He referred listeners to a paper on his website (PDF) which, among other things, suggests that Congress abolish uncooperative courts and judgeships, and argues that in certain rare cases, “the executive branch might choose to ignore a Court decision.” Rather than overturn Roe v. Wade, he proposes to overturn the entire system of judicial review.

Given that Mitt Romney will likely be the nominee, we probably don’t have to worry about Gingrich’s dreams of extrajudicial power. Still, it’s worth paying attention to the sort of views expressed last night. After all, they’re the views of the majority of the current Republican field, a field in which the position that Rick Perry held on abortion until last month is unacceptably moderate.