“Personhood” the Priority at American Life League’s Training Conference

Rachel Larris

American Life League gears up for a new round of amendments at their Personhood Now training conference. But will calling fertilized eggs "little children" help them chip away at abortion rights?

With the statewide campaigns to enact constitutional
“personhood” amendments the pro-life movement might be ready to abandon all
their previous narratives about faux-concern for women. The pro-life movement
clearly thinks they have hit on a winning narrative to convince the public to
ban abortion, and also birth control, by enacting state constitutional
amendments that grant full legal standing to hours-old fertilized eggs.

That was the message yesterday at the Washington Court hotel
during the American Life League’s Personhood Now training conference. Speaker
after speaker lined up to make their case about the evils of abortion and the
“necessity” of enacting 50 state constitutional amendments defining personhood
as beginning at fertilization, much like campaign that failed in Colorado in
2006.

Shaun Kenney, the executive director of the American Life
League said that personhood campaigns “reposition” the abortion discussion as a
means to move debate away from women’s rights to the rights of the embryos.

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“For the last 37 years the pro-life movement has been
focused on Roe v. Wade,” Kenney said opening up the conference. “We’ve been
hammering away at the right to privacy. And what you get at the end of the day
is not that much.”

Instead of discussing the right to privacy, Kenney said that
the personhood campaigns assert the right to exist, which fundamentally is a
more sympathetic campaign for public debate. “This takes the discussion out of
the courthouse and back into the court of public opinion,” he explained.

While no personhood amendment has been passed yet, the
American Life League seems confident that this U.S. Supreme Court would affirm
its constitutionality if passed. Robert Muise, a lawyer with the Thomas More
Law Center, a conservative public interest law firm “dedicated to the defense
and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians, " said that Justice Anthony
Kennedy was likely “with” them despite his vote in seminal case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern
Pennsylvania v. Casey
in 1992.

“His wife is pro-life and I’ve heard anecdotally that after Casey he spent some time on the couch,”
Muise said.

Both Kenney and Muise said that the “incremental” approach
to banning abortion, in the forms of enacting parental notification laws,
ultrasound requirements and the partial-birth abortion ban weren’t getting them
close enough to their goal of an outright ban. In fact Muise said that the
partial-birth abortion ban was mostly a symbolic move, rather than an effective
means at banning abortion.

“I’ve yet to see one conviction on the partial-birth
abortion ban,” Muise said. Instead Muise said it’s time to focus on real goal,
not just ending late-term or second-term abortion but all abortions.

A PowerPoint slide of Muise’s read:

Nearly 90 percent of all abortions
occur in the first 12 weeks, this is “key terrain.”

Left out of all the talk about banning abortion, there was
no discussion about what the passage of such a constitutional amendment would
actually mean to real live women.
There was lots of talk about fertilized eggs being “little children” but where
did these “little children” exist? Oh that’s right, in the body of the very
“person” the speakers weren’t even mentioning.

While all the rhetoric was dedicated towards “saving babies”
the concept of women’s personhood and autonomy was barely discussed or worse,
reduced women to body parts themselves. American Life League president Judie
Brown, in a taped message because she was in California, said there was no
justice for those living in Petri dishes or in their “mother’s fallopian
tubes.” We have to stop dehumanizing people “simply because of where they
live,” Brown said. So now embryos and fetuses just simply happen to live in
women’s bodies, as if it was merely a low-cost option for them rather than a nice
condo.

Muise was one of the few speakers to even brush up against
the idea of women’s autonomy. However he only mentioned women to claim that
there was no need for any exception for abortion for the life of the mother
because “in difficult pregnancies” physicians would work hard to save both
lives, and in cases where “one of them may not make it” the situation would
just be as it was in pre-Roe 1973, when doctors didn’t routinely let women die
in childbirth either. The idea that women’s health could be permanently
sacrificed for a pregnancy or that determination of how much risk for
continuing a pregnancy would be something a woman would want to decide for
herself, was not discussed by Muise.

Several African-American speakers also talked about “black
genocide.” There was discussion of campaigns of sterilization of “undesirables”
and goal in the post-Civil War era to keep African American populations from
growing. But none of the speakers mentioned that it is African American women
themselves who might wish to control their own reproductive schedule. African
American women’s autonomy was simply erased from the picture the speakers
painted.

Also not discussed, what would a personhood amendment mean
for contraception?

If such a personhood amendment passed then legally, all
hormonal contraception could potentially become outlawed. However “banning
birth control” was not a topic discussed by any speaker, except for Rev. Johnny
Hunter, who briefly said that birth control causes breast cancer, before also
mentioning that abortion does as well, a much touted but unproven claim.

While the speakers at the American Life League’s training
conference didn’t discuss “banning birth control” for activists, their table of
free pamphlets was all over that topic. With titles such as Answers to Your Questions different
pamphlets discussed Depo-Provera, NuvaRing, and Implanon.

What the pamphlets all shared in common was the idea that
hormonal contraception was the same as abortion.

In the “How does it work” section for Depo-Provera for
example, the pamphlet produced by the American Life League says:

It can thin the lining of the
uterus so that if the first two actions [preventing ovulation or preventing
sperm from reaching the ovum] fail and a new human being is created, the tiny
baby boy or girl will die before he or she can actually attach to the lining of
the uterus.

The same pamphlet warns:

Warning you may be told that
Depo-Provera cannot cause abortion, but that statement is based on the
incorrect notion that pregnancy begins when the baby implants in the lining of
the womb. This is dishonest and scientifically false. Don’t be misled.

The warning is repeated in all the pamphlets with the name
merely changed for each type of hormonal contraception.

Would the general public vote for a personhood amendment
that would outlaw not only abortion but also all hormonal birth control?
Probably not, but the pro-life movement is taking pains not to mention that
fact.

Still the pro-life movement thinks they have hit on a
winning idea. Keith Mason, cofounder of Personhood USA, a national organization
dedicated to enacting statewide personhood amends says, “We’re not in all 50
states yet, but we soon will be.”

Commentary Politics

On Immigration, Major Political Parties Can’t Seem to Agree on What’s ‘Un-American’

Tina Vasquez

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.

It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.  

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“No Business Being in This Country”

For context, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence are the decidedly anti-immigrant ticket. From the beginning, Trump’s campaign has been overrun by anti-immigrant rhetoric, from calling Mexicans “rapists” and “killers” to calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. And as of July 24, Trump’s proposed ban now includes people from countries “compromised by terrorism” who will not be allowed to enter the United States, including anyone from France.

So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymorenow they’re murderers, too.”

Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”

Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”

It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of originconditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”

There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.

Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.

“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”

Broadly, the takeaway from the RNC and the GOP nominee himself is that undocumented immigrants are terrorists who are taking American jobs and lives. “Trump leaned on a tragic story of a young woman’s murder to prop up a generalized depiction of immigrants as menacing, homicidal animals ‘roaming freely to threaten peaceful citizens,’” Hing wrote for the Nation.

When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.

“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

“The Border Crossed Us”

From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.

“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”

Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positiveillustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoricat the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.

Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”

Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?

At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.

“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.

The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativist Donald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.

Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:

There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.

But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.

If Democrats were being honest at their convention, we would have heard about their failure to end family detention, and they would have addressed that they too have a history of criminalizing undocumented immigrants.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expanding mandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.

In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

In addition, President Obama is called by immigrant rights advocates “deporter in chief,” having put into place a “deportation machine” that has sent more than two million migrants back to their country of origin, more than any president in history. New arrivals to the United States, such as the Central American asylum seekers coming to our border escaping gender-based violence, are treated with the same level of prioritization for removal as threats to our national security. The country’s approach to this humanitarian crisis has been raiding homes in the middle of the night and placing migrants in detention centers, which despite being rife with allegations of human rights abuses, are making private prison corporations millions in revenue.

How Are We Defining “Un-American”?

When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”

This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.

During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.

News Politics

Republican’s ‘Personhood’ Embrace Could Cost GOP Control of Colorado Senate

Jason Salzman

State Sen. Laura Woods was a sponsor of a so-called personhood bill that would give legal rights to a fetus, effectively outlawing abortion in Colorado.

A Colorado state senator, whose re-election race in November will likely determine whether Republicans retain control of the chamber, is sponsoring anti-choice legislation that could very well harm her bid in a swing district, state observers say.

State Sen. Laura Woods (R-Westminster) was a sponsor of a so-called personhood bill that would give legal rights to a fetus. The bill aimed to ban abortion in much the same way as three failed “personhood” ballot initiatives in Colorado would have outlawed it.

The legislation, referred to as the “Protect Life at Conception Act,” was nixed by Democrats in the Colorado house last week.

Woods is also among the sponsors of a bill requiring doctors to offer pregnant patients an ultrasound before they can have an abortion and to wait 24 hours before performing an abortion.

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The bill, which is awaiting committee action and is referred to as “A Woman’s Right to Accurate Health Care Info Act,” ensures “women have the opportunity to see or forego [sic] the opportunity to see the ultrasound.”

Woods sponsored similar so-called personhood and ultrasound bills last year, and both went down in committee.

Colorado has a Democratic governor, and the state house is likely to remain under Democratic control, state observers say. Losing Woods’ state senate seat would leave the GOP a minority in that chamber, with Democrats controlling 18 of 34 seats if Woods can’t secure re-election.[

Professor Robert D. Loevy, professor emeritus of political science at Colorado College, told Rewire that Woods’ anti-choice positions could hurt her in the upcoming general election—if she sticks with them.

“Her anti-abortion actions will make her popular among the Republicans who tend to go to caucuses and vote in primaries and who tend to be very conservative and anti-abortion,” Loevy said. “But when you get to the general election, being anti-abortion can be detrimental to you, particularly in a swing district.”

Woods took strong anti-choice positions during her primary run in 2014, and she has not moved away from them.

During her 2014 primary, Woods shared a Facebook post comparing her Republican opponent, Lang Sias, to Kermit Gosnell, a rogue abortion provider serving a life sentence. Woods apologized for sharing the post.

After defeating Sias, Woods moved on to the general election, where she won her seat by about 650 votes—a 1 percent margin—against then-state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (D), who is running against Woods again this year.

Woods, during her 2014 general election campaign, didn’t back away from her staunch anti-choice stances, hiring a campaign consultant with ties to Colorado’s failed “personhood” amendments.

Her support of a “personhood” abortion ban on Colorado’s 2014 ballot caused one local libertarian blogger, who normally supports conservative candidates, to write that he would not vote for her.

Asked to comment on whether Woods has backed away from her anti-choice positions during her time in office, Karen Middleton, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, points to a Facebook post shared by Woods with the comment “interesting,” two days after three people were killed at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.

Woods’ post depicted Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up the House of Lords in England in the name of enhancing religious freedom for Catholics in the 1600s. Under a drawing of Fawkes was the quotation, “The mind of a slave asks is it legal? The mind of a free man asks is it right?” The post has since been deleted.

“Senator Woods has held extreme anti-choice views for a long time, but she really put them into words when she blamed Planned Parenthood for the domestic terrorism attack at the clinic in Colorado Springs,” Middleton told Rewire, referring to the Fawkes post. “Between advocating violence against doctors and patients and her sponsorship of both personhood and mandatory transvaginal ultrasound bills, we’re sure voters will hold her accountable in the next election. As will we.”

Denver Post analysis of her voting record revealed Woods to be one of the eight most conservative lawmakers in the Colorado legislature, despite representing a district that’s evenly divided among Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters. The Post described the group of eight as “essentially a Colorado version of the congressional ‘Freedom Caucus,’” a group stacked with legislators hostile to abortion rights.

Woods, who used to comment on conservative talk radio under the name “Laura Waters,” did not return a call from Rewire seeking comment on how she thinks her anti-choice stances will be received in her district in November. She told the Denver Post last year that she thinks she’s “representing all Coloradans well.”

“If you’ve looked at my voting record at all, what you will know is I’m an independent thinker,” Woods told Denver Post reporter John Frank in January. “I bucked my leadership, I bucked the party, I bucked the caucus … if it didn’t line up with my principles or my district.”