State Sen. Joni Ernst waves to supporters at a primary election night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, June 3, 2014.
Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP

Ernst attempts a flip-flop-flip on personhood

In 2014, many conservative Republicans are perfectly comfortable opposing reproductive rights in general, but as we discussed last week, “personhood” has become something of a third rail. Given recent developments, it’s understandable – personhood measures wouldn’t just ban all abortions, they’d also block common forms of birth control.
And Republicans clearly realize that opposing birth control in the 21st century, when the party is already struggling with the gender gap, isn’t a credible option.
With that in mind, longtime personhood champions, including Colorado’s Cory Gardner, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, have all begun to hedge on the radical proposal. Laura Bassett reports, however, that one personhood supporter is choosing a different course.
Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst said she would support a federal bill that gives legal personhood rights to fetuses from the moment of fertilization, effectively wiping out legal abortion in the United States.
Ernst voted for a fetal personhood amendment in the Iowa State legislature in 2013, and she told the Sioux City Journal editorial board on Wednesday that she also would support a federal personhood measure if she were elected to the U.S. Senate.
“I will continue to stand by that. I am a pro-life candidate, and this has been shaped by my religious beliefs through the years,” she said. “So I support that.”
If the Huffington Post piece is correct, it’s certainly a provocative move for the right-wing Senate candidate. Ernst is in one of the nation’s most competitive and closely watched U.S. Senate campaigns, and for her to endorse federal legislation that would ban access to common forms of birth control, as well as eliminating all abortion rights, is an usual tactic three weeks before the election.
Indeed, it also raises curious questions about Ernst’s ideology. The Iowa Republican believes a federal minimum wage law is “ridiculous,” but a federal personhood law is the sort of thing she can support.
But there’s another lingering concern that’s worth keeping in mind: does Ernst fully understand the policy she’s endorsed?
Politicians flip-flop all the time, but on personhood, Ernst is apparently trying to execute the rarely seen flip-flop-flip.
First, just last year, Ernst endorsed personhood in the Iowa state Senate.
Second, Ernst backed off her support for personhood.
Third, Ernst seemed confused about what personhood is.
And now Ernst is back to supporting personhood again, this time at the federal level.
I imagine Ernst backers might suggest the Republican candidate is just confused – she often flubs the details on public policy – and she wouldn’t actually try to pass a personhood policy in the U.S. Senate, but with 19 days until Election Day, the she-doesn’t-know-what-she’s-talking-about defense may not be the GOP’s best bet.