What the Media’s Missing in Iowa: ‘Personhood’ Is No. 1 Issue

Candidates are succumbing to pressure from a religious right group to limit in-vitro fertilization and giving up control of the GOP in the process

I’m glad I left the mainstream media in the rearview mirror years ago. 

For example, I was a young reporter in New York when civilians thought then-governor Mario Cuomo was going to get a Democratic presidential nod. When I asked around the newsroom however, it was poo-poohed — all the longtime political reporters “knew” Mario was “mobbed up” and couldn’t pass presidential scrutiny. They were just waiting for him to announce.

And today people are surprised that harassment by Herman Cain, idiocy by Michelle Bachman and Newt Gingrich and bigotry by Ron Paul have only just surfaced? They shouldn’t be. As I learned with the Cuomo story, reporters are lazy and don’t bother reporting anything until the fish is so big that frying it will advance their careers.

In this case, no one cared about Cain’s sexism, Bachman and Gingrich’s bizarre views or Paul’s racism until they became presidential timber. Suddenly, it was worth reporting. Likewise, in Iowa the media has blinders on to what quietly has become the most significant issue of this election, the so-called “personhood” pledge being billed by its backers as the most significant change in the anti-abortion movement since Roe v. Wade.

Sure they had fun with Bachman confusing hometown “hero” John Wayne Gacy, the murderous clown, with John Wayne, the movie star. Shooting fish in a barrel. And Gingrich — that was chickens home to roost. Paul’s racism? One didn’t have to be a genius to notice his son, Sen. Rand Paul is borderline racist and, well, the apple never falls far from the tree.

So why hasn’t anyone in the mainstream called the Republicans on this pledge that they’re tripping over each other to sign. Because it would require work—reporters would actually have to learn something about biology, a subject the vast majority of them skipped in high school in their rush to see their names in print, with he result is that most can’t tell a zygote from a xylophone!

That means what we’ve missed so far is how, in evangelical state like Iowa, where farming is booming, it’s not “the economy, stupid” (as Bill Clinton put it) that the election will turn on; nor foreign affairs, where everyone (except Paul) is in agreement with President Obama that we can’t let Iran get the bomb.

No, with Rick Perry’s announcement last week he/d signed the pledge, the real story out of Iowa is that five of the seven Republicans in the caucuses have signed onto this radical new theory (first promulgated in Colorado only two years ago) that “life begins at conception,” i.e., the moment the sperm hits the eggs.

What makes this push by the religious right truly insidious, though, is that, unlike the case of “Roe v. Wade”—a relatively elegant compromise between the rights of a woman and society’s concern for a “viable” fetus—this isn’t about abortion at all. 

A little bit of that biology class my former confreres missed: The amoeba-like fertilized egg, the “zygote,” is the first step in creating a new human. Virtually all Artificial Reproductive Technology, or ART as the science is colloquially known, would effectively be outlawed since almost all, up to and including “test tube” babies, involve manipulating the zygote.

Allowing the state to regulate the zygote—a single cell!–would doom hundreds of thousands of women each year to a life of barrenness, And even for conservatives that’s not a particularly attractive option, and not one many would vote for if they understood that was what the “pledge” is actually about. Hence the effort to drape in anti-abortion livery, which is what make’s it so insidious—and so scandalous that the media has failed to do its job.

Almost no one has reported that this isn’t some incremental skirmish in the battle over abortion, like denying it if a woman’s life is at stake (Perry’s original position last week.) Rather it’s a game-changer; a push to take on the question of life itself and who controls it, the parents or the state. And if the state, then who runs the state? Pledgeholders only or fair minded politicians of any stripe?

If you think I’m kidding, consider: Almost all the old-line anti-abortion organizations like the National Right to Life and the Council of Catholic Bishops have disowned the movement, seeing “personhood” zealots as troublemakers likely to sabotage the attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade in a dunderheaded move to breach the separation between church and state.

Rather than saving lives this new proposal, fomented by the folks like those behind the Tea Party movement, would in years to come prevent the birth of millions more babies than would ever have been aborted —and (important politically) largely babies of those opposed to dreams of a Tea Party-like takeover the government. Don’t believe me? Listen to the movement’s own spokesmen.

"This isn't about shutting abortion clinics,” says Brad Prescott, director of the recent Mississippi initiative on personhood, who understands that abortions nationwide are already at historically low levels and sinking. Instead, “it’s an opportunity to say we’re all made in the image of god!

Fortunately, Mississippi voted down such a dangerous, Aryan-like idea. The voters there saw the initiative for what it was: a blatant takeover attempt by Midwest evangelicals of positions they couldn’t otherwise achieve. In fact, a lot of opposition revolved around that conservative standard — good, old “state rights” — with more than one Mississippian announcing they’d voted against the proposal “because we don’t need any Coloradans coming down here and telling us how to live!

Who would have thought we’d be counting on the good sense of Mississippians to save our values? Making it even scarier, like the Tea Partiers, the personhooders don’t take “no” for an answer. Rather than conceding defeat after Mississippi and licking their wounds, they simply reloaded, going national and moving on to Iowa. There they invented this “pledge” to bludgeon the Republicans into submission the way the Tea Party used Grover Norquist tax pledge.

They picked off the lower-hanging fruit like Bachman, Santorum, and Gingrich, desperate to agree to anything to pick up a few votes, before putting pressure on Paul and Perry. Perry’s acquiescence last week increases the pressure on the remaining two — Romney and Huntsman — to join the crowd, which would make it the de facto position of the national party.

That’s why the evangelicals in Colorado don’t care about abortions (Colorado Springs, home of the Air Force Academy, is ground zero for this caliphate of Christian crusaders). What they’re more concerned about is that in vitro fertilization is highly expensive, $30,000 or more for each attempt, with many women trying four or five times before success.

With most of that not covered by insurance, that means the vast majority of these babies aren’t being born to working-class evangelicals in the Midwest, but rather in places like New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Boston — hardly hotbeds of fundamentalism. Hence the personhood movement: a naked power grab.

The real story the media isn’t telling you is that Personhooders are terrified that more and more liberal babies born to successful women will diminish the power they’ve exerted for the last 40 years over the Republican party. Thus their drive to get the pledge signed in Iowa, where evangelicals decide.

Without the media noticing, these newcomers have inverted the pyramid, no longer “pro-life” but rather “pro choice,” so as long as they make the choice.

Those thousands of babies each year who will never meet their parents if Personhooders get their way? They’re exactly the one’s they want to ”abort,” or keep from being born. And that’s the story that the media is missing. You read it here first.