Ted Cruz considers a question from Chuck Todd during an MSNBC Town Hall, in Buffalo, N.Y., April 14, 2016.
Photo by Nathan R. Congleton for MSNBC

Cruz refuses to answer on personhood during MSNBC town hall

Updated

Ted Cruz refused to answer eight direct questions Thursday about whether or not he’d support personhood bills – legislation that would give Constitutional rights to fertilized eggs – despite pledging to support it last year.

4/14/16, 2:48 PM ET

Cruz: Senate 'not upset that somebody lied to them'

During an MSNBC exclusive town hall, Chuck Todd spoke with Ted Cruz about his recent remarks on Senator Mitch McConnell.
I told you I’m not going to get into the labels, but what I will say is we should protect life. But I’m not interested in anything that restricts birth control,” he said after being pressed at length by Chuck Todd in the MSNBC town hall that will air in full Thursday at 8 p.m. “And I’m not interested in anything that restricts in vitro fertilization because I think parents who are struggling to create life, to have a child, that is a wonderful thing.” 

This carefully-crafted answer seem designed to speak to all sides of the debate, as a sort of political code-switching. His answer, read with the different definitions of birth control and abortion held by each side of the debate, means different things. Anti-abortion activists consider emergency contraception and intrauterine devices  (IUDs) – birth control methods doctors say prevent, but do not end, pregnancy – to be “early abortion,” and some oppose common in vitro fertilization procedures because the embryo may not survive the process. But Cruz’s determined refusal to disavow personhood tows most of the anti-abortion activists’ party line, while stressing support of birth control and IVF speaks to the more moderate Republican voters he is trying to appeal to in New York.

It’s unclear what Cruz defines to be birth control – he wouldn’t say when asked repeatedly – but he referenced the Little Sisters of the Poor Supreme Court case, saying it involves  “abortion-inducing drugs.” The case focuses on contraception, emergency contraception, and IUDs.

RELATED: Ted Cruz tackles ‘the condom police’

The New York primary marks a crucial turning point for Cruz’s candidacy: It’s the first of many more moderate states in the primary schedule, where the very conservative senator needs to start broadening his appeal to keep going.

Cruz has no real hope of winning outright here – front-runner Donald Trump is still the odds-on favorite in his home state – but he needs to peel off a significant number of delegates if he wants to keep Trump from winning a majority of the nation’s delegates, which would force a contested convention that puts the nomination in the hands of delegates the Cruz campaign has been working hard to woo.  

Cruz insisted during the MSNBC Town Hall that the strength of the GOP has been his “focus every day” right now, and that “the way to win and turn the country around is to unite the party.”

Read the full exchange on personhood below.

TODD: Good thing you brought up abortion. You’ve been on both sides of the personhood issue. You were hesitant to support it and then you signed a pledge saying you wanted to see personhood – this idea that the minute, the minute, of conception essentially that that fetus has rights.

(CROWD CLAPS)

That’s a divisive issue. It get’s into some contraception disputes. Where are you on personhood? Are you going to pursue this as an agenda or are you just simply supporting the idea? Do you know what I mean by the difference?

CRUZ: Well listen, some of the labels in this debate can get confusing because different people mean different things about labels. I don’t want to get in a back and forth ion labels. I believe every human life is a gift from God and we should cherish and protect and celebrate them.

The presidential campaign: Ted Cruz
The Texas senator was first to announce his bid back in March, and has since been carefully laying the groundwork for a come-from-behind primary victory.
“(CROWD CHEERS)

TODD: So you decide when life begins. I mean, I’ll be honest. That’s the dispute here. Right? When does life begin? And when do they have constitutional rights?

CRUZ: I will say, when it comes to birth control. It is clear that Americans have a right to birth control. I am not interested in any legislation—

TODD: All kinds?

CRUZ:  – Any restrictions that restrict birth control.

TODD: All kinds?

CRUZ: And you know. Listen.

TODD: I hate to get into the details here but IUD is a big one because—

CRUZ: Chuck -

TODD: – of what some people view that it’s not contraception because—

CRUZ: You know it’s interesting, this debate. It actually illustrates something that the media doesn’t understand. The media often describes, and says,  life is an issue that is an advantage for the Democrats. You know who doesn’t believe that?

TODD: Actually, that wasn’t what my question is.

CRUZ: But— let me go with this for a second because I’m going to loop back to this.

TODD: Okay.

CRUZ: You know who doesn’t believe that? Democrats. Name the last presidential race where Democrats campaigned trumpeting their support for abortion. You think about the 2012 election. The 2012 election the Democrats focused over and over again on the war on women, which was a totally made up threat. But it focused on contraceptives. It wasn’t on abortion. It was on contraceptives. And and it was. Listen, I have been around conservatives my entire life. I have never met a single human being, in any place, who wanted to ban contraceptives.

TODD: There’s some people that are not thrilled with it. Not for religious reasons.

CRUZ: Listen. There are people who because of their faith don’t use contraceptives. That’s – you have a right to follow your faith. That’s not my faith. I’m Southern Baptist. My faith doesn’t have a problem with contraceptives but I respect those whose faith differs from mine and the great thing about our country is you can live according to your faith. If you’re faith says don’t use birth control then you don’t use it. You know, in my family, I’ve joked. Heidi and I have two little girls. I’m very glad we don’t have 17.

(CROWD LAUGHS)

You know, we can have some tolerance and some diversity. But the fact that the Democrats had to create this made up threat on contraceptives shows that most Americans want to protect life. And I hope that we have a culture that values every human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.

(CROWD CLAPS)

TODD: Personhood. Are you going to purse it as an addendum?

CRUZ: I told you I’m not going to get into the labels but what I will say is we should protect life but I’m not interested in anything that restricts birth control. And I’m not interested in anything that restricts in vitro fertilization because I think parents who are struggling to create life, to have a child, that is a wonderful thing.

TODD: It sounds like you think this movement doesn’t—there isn’t legislation yet you could support yet for this movement.  

CRUZ: What I believe is that we should defend life. And I’ll tell ya, I have a long record of defending life – of defending, for example –

TODD: Well, no one is questioning whether you’re pro-life. This is a different. That’s why I’m asking. Would you pursue this?

CRUZ: I will happily support anything that protects life. And protecting life is a value that matters. Whether it is stopping partial birth abortion which I think is a barbarism. Or whether it is fairly enforcing the criminal laws against Planned Parenthood. You know a few months ago, we had this series of videos ttat were horrifying.

Abortion and Contraception

Cruz refuses to answer on personhood during MSNBC town hall

Updated