This weekend in Des Moines, Democratic State Senator Matt McCoy showed how pro-choice elected officials should talk about abortion rights and the "personhood" movement.
McCoy was a guest on Sunday’s edition of the WHO-TV show "The Insiders," along with Iowa House Majority Whip Chris Hagenow, an anti-choice Republican. Abortion rights came up during the first segment, right after WHO’s Dave Price discussed former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s appearance in Iowa over the weekend. Price cited a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing 54 percent of Americans support abortion being legal, while only 44 percent want to make abortion illegal. Hagenow pointed out that it’s hard to poll this kind of issue, because nuances of question wording are so important—a fair point. He said the Republican Party will continue to stand for "life."
Here’s part of McCoy’s answer, beginning around the 3:15 mark (my transcript):
One of the interesting pieces on the, on reproductive rights—most Americans really view themselves as somewhere between pro-life and pro-choice. They don’t want to fit into a mold. And so, when you drill down into that issue, most Americans want to see less abortion, and they want it to remain safe and legal. And so, I think that to me is one of the most interesting things, people not wanting to be labeled as much, fitting into either camp.
Absolutely. A lot of people may not think of themselves as “pro-choice,” but they are uncomfortable with the extreme Republican position on reproductive rights. (For example, the 20-something woman in this focus group who identified herself as anti-abortion and “very conservative” but said Republicans shouldn’t be “so right wing” and “so out there” on abortion.)
McCoy is saying to people: even if you don’t like the idea of abortion, you may still be part of the majority who support maintaining reproductive rights.
A little later, Price asked his guests about State Representative Tom Shaw’s latest “personhood” bill. Here is the full text of House File 138, introduced by Shaw with eight Iowa House Republican co-sponsors. The key passages:
707.1 Murder defined. […]
2. “Person,” when referring to the victim of a murder, means an individual human being, without regard to age of development, from the moment of conception, when a zygote is formed, until natural death.
3. Murder includes killing another person through any means that terminates the life of the other person including but not limited to the use of abortion-inducing drugs. For the purposes of this section, “abortion-inducing drug” means a medicine, drug, or any other substance prescribed or dispensed with the intent of terminating a clinically diagnosable pregnancy of a woman, with knowledge that the drug will with reasonable likelihood cause the termination of the pregnancy. […]
In other words, say goodbye to emergency contraception (the “morning-after pill”), IUD (intra-uterine device) birth control, and possibly also standard birth control pills. Plus, clinics that offer in-vitro fertilization could be subject to murder charges for any fertilized eggs that may be discarded. Medical experts conducting stem-cell research could be charged with murder too.
Beginning a little after the 5:30 mark, Hagenow gave a lawyerly, meandering answer to Price’s question about this bill. He praised Shaw’s intentions while glossing over the fact that he isn’t co-sponsoring the new bill—even though he supported personhood legislation two years ago. Hagenow’s tactful non-response was what I would expect from a member of the Iowa House leadership team. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen hasn’t shown any enthusiasm for pushing anti-abortion legislation this year and clearly doesn’t want to touch Shaw’s bill with a ten-foot pole.
Price then asked McCoy whether the personhood movement is going anywhere. My transcript:
No, I think the personhood movement is, is kind of wackadoodle. It’s been rejected in Mississippi, which is the heart of the Bible belt, by 58 percent of the public, has unintended consequences related to stem[-cell] research, related to disease research, and also huge ramifications on many of the over-the-counter and accepted forms of birth control.
In less than 30 seconds, McCoy squeezed in many strong arguments against personhood legislation, using a calm, reasonable tone. I love the way he dismissed the movement as “wackadoodle.” The word grabs the listener’s attention and conveys how far out there many Republicans are. It’s also helpful to remind people that voters in Mississippi of all places rejected this cause. McCoy didn’t need to sound outraged to convey the Shaw bill as ludicrous.
Take note, Democratic elected officials and candidates.