Two days after Alabama Republicans awarded a Senate nomination to Judge Roy Moore, one of the most thoroughly extremist cultural reactionaries of the 21st century, the conservative commentariat is offering him some cover by way of attacks on Democratic nominee Doug Jones for alleged extremism on the abortion issue.
The basis of these attacks is not terribly specific answers by Jones to a couple of questions from MSNBC’s Chuck Todd.
Todd asked Jones about a 20-week abortion ban, like the one that Republicans announced Tuesday that they will reintroduce in the House. Many European nations ban abortion after 12, 13, or 14 weeks.
“You wouldn’t be in favor of legislation that said ban abortion after 20 weeks, or something like that?” Todd asked.
“No, I’m not in favor of anything that is going to infringe on a woman’s right and her freedom to choose,” Jones said. “That’s just the position that I’ve had for many years, it’s the position I continue to have.”
It’s reasonably clear Jones is trying to say he supports Roe v. Wade, the constitutional status quo for the last 44 years, under which all those 20-week ban bills will almost certainly be struck down unless the composition of the Supreme Court changes first. Yet conservatives are claiming Jones was announcing an unrestricted right to an abortion prior to the moment of birth. Yes, Jones has separately indicated support for repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits use of federal funds to pay for entirely legal abortions, and that might be controversial in Alabama. But for the most part he’s a standard-brand defender of the law as it exists today.
The more immediate question, however, is whether being vague, defensive, or conventionally liberal on abortion policy is a good idea in a conservative state when your opponent is someone like Roy Moore, whose views on the issue should terrify social-issues moderates and insult every woman in the state. Jones has a good opportunity to damage Moore among precisely those better-educated and less-Evangelical Republican voters he needs to win. But that will require making Moore’s positions on abortion, not his own, the focus.
If Jones tries to do that, Moore’s record will provide plenty of ammunition: Roy Moore has staked out the most hard-core position imaginable on abortion, and has maintained an uncomfortably close relationship with activists who justify violence against abortion providers and punishment of women for exercising their right to choose. And that’s aside from his regular comments suggesting that legalized abortion and homosexuality have brought down divine wrath on America.
Wherever Doug Jones would draw the line between legal and illegal abortions, there is zero question where Roy Moore would draw it: He wants to make every abortion under any circumstances illegal from the moment of conception, and punish those who procure them, regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court says. He made that clear not in some op-ed, but in an opinion from his position as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, in a 2014 case involving prosecuting a woman for endangering her fetus by using drugs:
Because a human life with a full genetic endowment comes into existence at the moment of conception, the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” encompasses the moment of conception. Legal recognition of the unborn as members of the human family derives ultimately from the laws of nature and of nature’s God, Who created human life in His image and protected it with the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” Therefore, the interpretation of the word “child” in Alabama’s chemical-endangerment statute, § 26-15- 3.2, Ala. Code 1975, to include all human beings from the moment of conception is fully consistent with these first principles regarding life and law.
As this quote illustrates, Moore is a leader in the “Personhood Movement,” which holds that from the moment of conception a zygote enjoys the full protections of the Equal Protection Clause, which precedes and preempts any claim by the woman involved. If there was any doubt about Moore’s position, it should have been removed by a 2012 amicus brief he and his Foundation for Moral Law signed in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving a proposed personhood constitutional amendment in Oklahoma. Moore and his group noted they were promoting a personhood initiative in Alabama similar to Oklahoma’s, and then argued:
While Personhood laws may challenge the legitimacy of the so-called “right” to abort that person under Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the Oklahoma Supreme Court, by blocking personhood protection for every preborn child, “threw the baby out with the bathwater” and rejected the many other ways a state may protect the life and dignity of the preborn child.
Finally, the Holy Scriptures provide additional support for the personhood of the preborn child. Though some interpretations of scriptural passages try to devalue the preborn, the Bible, rightly divided, consistently protects the life of preborn persons from murder and assault as equally as it does those already born.
How extreme is the zygote-personhood position, which would arguably ban in vitro fertilization clinics and various forms of contraception? Extreme enough that initiatives to place personhood provisions into state constitutions have failed by large margins on the five occasions they’ve made it to the ballot: three times in Colorado, once in North Dakota, and perhaps most relevantly for Alabama, once in arch-conservative Mississippi.
Even though it had widespread support from Republican and even a few Democratic elected officials, Mississippi’s Amendment 26 was defeated by a 59–41 margin in 2011.
Roy Moore’s position on abortion was too extreme for Mississippi. Is it just right for Alabama? Perhaps that question should be answered before anyone starts picking apart Doug Jones’s interview answers. But without question, Jones needs to occupy more, not less, of the vast ground between Moore’s positions and those of regular Alabamians, who may frown on late-term abortions but don’t want to treat women as distrusted, ungodly bystanders in the reproductive process.