The rest of conservative America may be celebrating, but for the Personhood movement, it is time for some sober analysis.
Tuesday’s election results were certainly not good for pro-abortion Democrats, but they were even worse for the Personhood movement. I have to admit that my own predictions were off and I am sorely disappointed.
After the defeat of Measure 1 in North Dakota by an unexpectedly wide vote of 64-36 and of the Brady Amendment in Colorado by an almost identical margin of 65-35, it isn’t an overstatement to say that the statewide personhood ballot measure is dead for now.
In 2011, when personhood proponents lost the amendment in Mississippi by a 59 – 41 margin, we were disappointed, but we knew that there was room for improvement. We had been sabotaged by last minute opposition from state leaders who should have been our allies, like former Gov. Haley Barber, and by national pro-life groups and churches. We knew we had lost a good opportunity, but the extenuating circumstances were such that we could envision a better result.
Fast forward three years to last Tuesday.
Unless the Personhood movement wishes to become another non-profit machine that simply thrives off of the discontent of an ever shrinking population, a lot has to change.
In North Dakota, the churches were almost 100 percent behind the effort, including the Catholic Church. The state political establishment had put its stamp of approval on the amendment by passing it through the legislature. The language was a general affirmation of the state’s duty to protect the right to life with no exceptions, but also with no hint of criminal penalties for anyone. The election turnout was decidedly conservative in a conservative state. It should have been the perfect storm. Instead, the Amendment went down by an almost 2-1 ratio.
Meanwhile in Colorado, Senator-elect Cory Gardner became the first local Republican to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 12 years, and he did it with surprising ease and by running away from his prior support of Personhood or anything pro-life. Early analysis suggest that he was pushed over the top by low overall voter turnout and high turnout among the 65 and older category, a good category for pro-lifers. The entire campaign in Colorado was so focused on Gardner’s past support of Personhood that it led some to refer to the incumbent pro-abortion Senator Udall as Senator Uterus.
Even though Cory Gardner won fairly easily in Colorado, Amendment 67 still failed by a 65-35 vote, just 6 percent better than the last time in 2010. Some will be tempted to consider this 6 percent a significant positive sign for the movement, but it really isn’t. The language of the Brady Amendment was so much more appealing as presented on the ballot, and the story of Heather and Brady Surovik humanized the issue so perfectly that the result would have had to be closer to 40 percent to have been considered an improvement. As it was, the improved result more likely reflected a more appealing amendment and a very favorable turnout.
Had the Brady Amendment performed just a little better and the North Dakota amendment passed or been close to passing, then the claim could be made that the movement was growing and that there was a realistic chance of passing a personhood amendment in another state in the near future. As it is, the crushing defeat of the North Dakota amendment and the lackluster improvement in Colorado should make Personhood supporters stop to think about the strategy going forward.
Thoughtful reconsideration of the strategy of the Personhood movement is what the movement needs right now.
It should be noted that the same goes for the entire pro-life movement. The narrow victory of the Tennessee amendment that safeguards the right to legislatively address abortion, is a victory, but the bar is set painfully low.
And the victories of Cory Gardner, Joni Ernst, and Scott Walker are not exactly master classes in pro-life advocacy. Cory Gardner appeared in ads as the state's number one cheerleader for over-the-counter abortifacients, Scott Walker looked straight into the camera and almost asked to be forgiven for being pro-life, and Joni Ernst (the best of the lot) said that in her mind, her support of personhood was nothing more than a statement that she “supports life.”
With the obscenely well-funded abortion lobby pouring money into these campaigns and with the media displaying an almost communist propagandistic bias against pro-lifers, it is amazing that amendments like Tennessee’s can still pass and people who oppose abortion get elected. But let’s not engage in our own form of propaganda. That these people get elected and those tepid measures pass does not mean we are reverting the existential moral crisis in this country.
And speaking of an existential crisis, unless the Personhood movement wishes to become another non-profit machine that simply thrives off of the discontent of an ever shrinking population, a lot has to change.
Those who have been in the Personhood movement know that the goal was always to be standard bearers. To use the initiative process as a way to call people back to their conscience. To use a potential legal challenge to bring tension to a jurisprudence that otherwise survives only through total capitulation to the abortion-on-demand paradigm – by this I mean the constitutional standard set out in Casey that dictates that whatever “pro-life” legislation is passed cannot create an “undue burden” to a woman seeking to commit an abortion.
Personhood looked at the undue burden test and responded emphatically that not only do we want to create an undue burden, but we demand the total abolition of abortion. We never believed that this would be achieved through an easy Supreme Court victory. Instead, our goal was to increase the social tension. In other words, we looked at the temporary reverses, at the ballot box and legally, as ways of increasing the social tension on the road to abolition.
Social and legal tension was our goal, and that will continue to be our goal until we achieve the abolition of abortion, but we have to be honest with ourselves and realize that the current strategy of statewide ballot measures may have reached its limit.
In that great opening scene from the movie Patton, George C. Scott says something that is not far off the mark with regards to the American political spirit: “Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn't give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed.”
I am afraid that the ability of the statewide personhood ballot measure to cause social tension is mostly over. Now it will simply be seen as a loser. Republicans know that at the state level they can ignore or even oppose personhood and get elected just fine. We also now know that there is almost no chance to pass a personhood measure as long as Planned Parenthood can take our taxpayer funds and combine it with the blood money from carrying out abortions and pour it into spreading misinformation which will be carried joyfully by the media.
The personhood movement has fought honorably and maintained the standard of the sanctity of life, but it is time to switch up the strategy.
In Georgia, Georgia Right to Life has just achieved a 98.7 percent victory rating in their no-exceptions endorsements. They have successfully passed non-binding resolutions at the local party level in support of personhood, and now they have helped to launch the Personhood Alliance, a nationwide group of brick and mortar organizations seeking to promote the sanctity of life through the personhood strategy.
These initial years of the personhood movement have taught us a lot. I believe that we now know how to fight to win against Planned Parenthood. And the key is being able to control the battleground.
When you look at electoral maps of the country, it is readily evident that majorities in almost every metropolitan area of the country are opposed to our worldview. These metropolitan areas are also the major media centers and accumulate large percentages of the voting population in every state.
Right now, fighting the abortion industry at the state level is akin to having lined up a battalion of colonists against the well-trained and well armed redcoats. We need to start engaging in more asymmetrical tactics, and this means engaging the enemy in municipalities and counties that we know we control.
This can be done at the legislative and political level, as Georgia Right to Life and other groups have done by the endorsement of state officials, or it can be done by engaging in municipal ballot measures.
Local laws deal with many powers that touch upon the personhood of the preborn, from local health and building codes to local law enforcement such as child abuse prevention. It is time to establish the recognition of universal human personhood into these laws.
The Personhood movement can take these losses and learn from them to refine our strategy and continue to build the grassroots and increase social tension, or we can try to spin losses into victories and lower the bar for what victory means.
I refuse to lower the bar, and I think most personhood activists would agree with me that the cause of the preborn is too important to give up. Instead, we need to fight harder, smarter, and this means to fight at the local level.
I am inspired by Winston Churchill’s oration to the House of Commons in 1940 after the British had suffered a series of crushing defeats:
We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
Personhood must never surrender.
Gualberto Garcia Jones was a member of the board of Personhood USA and Personhood Education and is now the National Policy Director for the Personhood Alliance. He has drafted dozens of personhood measures, including the 2010, 2012, and 2014 Personhood Amendments in Colorado, testified in support of North Dakota's Measure 1.