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."
The amendment Ernst voted for in 2013 said the state must recognize and protect a person's right to life "at any stage of development." Similar personhood measures were rejected by voters in Mississippi and Colorado after legal experts and women's health advocates warned about the wide range of implications such a law could have. In addition to outlawing abortion without exceptions, a personhood bill could affect the legality of in vitro fertilization and some forms of birth control that anti-abortion groups believe work by preventing implantation of the fertilized egg, such as emergency contraception and the intrauterine device.
Democrats have been emphasizing their opponents' support for fetal personhood in the hope that it would turn off Independent voters. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a new ad hitting Ernst on her abortion stance the same day she came out in support of a federal personhood bill.
Other GOP Senate candidates have been running from their previous support for personhood. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is running for Senate in Colorado, dodged the question of whether he still supports federal personhood bill by claiming that there isn't one, even though there is one, and he co-sponsored it.
Ernst defended her vote for a state personhood bill in September by claiming that it wouldn't actually do anything. Now she is saying that even if it did ban abortion and some kinds of birth control, and even if she did vote for it, it wouldn't have a chance of passing in Congress.
"If you look at any sort of an amendment at the federal level ... they come together through consensus," she said Wednesday. "And, honestly, we don’t have a consensus. It would take two-thirds of the House, two-thirds of the Senate to even pass a proposed amendment, and then it would have to be ratified by three-quarters of our states’ legislatures. We don’t have that consensus at the federal level."
Ernst's opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), supports abortion rights and has repeatedly criticized Ernst for her anti-abortion record and support for personhood.
“Senator Ernst, I respect your faith," he said in a debate with her last month. "I have my own faith that is very deep and personal to me. But let’s be clear: The Cedar Rapids Gazette did a fact-check on the amendment that you introduced and said it would do all the things that I said it would -- that it would ban forms of contraception, it would prevent people from getting in vitro fertilization, and you personally said that doctors who performed those procedures under your bill should be prosecuted.”
Ernst said Wednesday that her support for a fetal personhood bill does not mean she opposes birth control, and that Braley has no business criticizing her record on women's issues.
"I will always protect a woman's access to reliable and affordable birth control," she said. "I think it's laughable that Congressman Braley is the one thats lecturing me on this. I'm a woman, and I have three beautiful daughters, and I just think when it comes to women's issues, I have an edge on women's issues."
Ernst currently has a narrow lead over Braley in the Senate race, according to the latest USA Today/Suffolk University poll.