12/04/2012 06:44 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2013

Fire Up the Republican Party With Personhood

During the last election campaign, Rep. Mike Coffman set himself apart from other anti-abortion Colorado Republicans, like Ken Buck and Joe Coors, by not backing off his support of the Personhood Amendment, which would ban all abortion, even in the cases of rape and incest.

Coffman said he's against all abortion, except to save the life of the mother.

I thought maybe Coffman's little exception there, saving mom's life, would alienate him from the personhood movement, even though Coffman favors banning abortion even in the cases of rape and incest.

But Coffman's stated exception, allowing for abortion, to save the life of the mother, is apparently acceptable to the personhood backers, who see candidates like Coffman as the great anti-abortion hope of the GOP.

In a statement issued by Personhood USA Monday, Personhood spokesperson Jennifer Mason wrote that Coffman's victory is proof that her organization's (and Coffman's) uncompromising stance against abortion, even in the cases of rape and incest, leads to Republican victories.

Mason slammed Sen. John McCain's recent argument that the GOP should back off the abortion issue in order to win future elections.

Mason believes moderate Republicans are unelectable, and the socially conservative wing of the GOP is growing and represents the future of the Republican Party.

Mason wrote:

In Colorado, where the personhood movement began in 2008, voters shied away from Republican candidates who had flip flopped on the issue. These candidates, following the unproven John McCain formula of "backing away" on abortion issues, lost.

Congressman Mike Coffman, although he did not endorse any state amendments this year including personhood, maintained his 100 percent pro-life position (without compromising or denying the personhood of children) and won.

There is a lesson to be learned here. The old guard of the GOP is dying. Their moderate candidates are unelectable, their base is unmoved by their attempts to energize the left, and their foundation is crumbling.

But what about Coffman's position of allowing abortion to save the life of the mother? Is that a step toward the kind of moderation that Mason sees as part of the losing formula?

Personhood activists I spoke with don't see it as an exception. Here's their thinking: if the life of a pregnant woman is in danger due to a pregnancy or for whatever reason, the doctor needs to realize that he or she is treating two patients, the woman and the fetus at whatever stage of development.

As then Vice President of Colorado Right to Life Leslie Hanks told me via email ealier this year:
"If mom's life is in danger, the doctor has two patients & he should make every effort to save both."
In other words, the doctor would have two patients in one body to care for.

It's unclear to me, under a personhood law, how a doctor would decide between saving the fetus or the pregnant woman, if both could not be saved. Would he or she be a death panel of one? How long would the doctor continue treating both woman and fetus if it meant that both were more likely to die if the doctor didn't make a choice between the two?

Coffman has never stated that he'd always save the woman's life over the fetus,' just that abortion would be an allowable choice for the doctor to make.

Jennifer Mason said the issue whether to allow abortion to save the mother's life is one of "semantics" and "splitting hairs."
Of course, you try to save the mother first," she told me, "and then you try to save save the baby. We're painted all the time as only caring about the baby. But there's no purpose in that. If the mom dies, the baby dies too. Nobody wants that. We try to save both, but of course the mother's life has to be prioritized.

"There is no case where it's medically necessary to kill the child to save the mother," Mason said. The surgery for an ectopic pregnancy, she said, requires the removal of the "baby," which doctors can then try to save. If it dies, this would be an "unintended consequence" and therefore not an abortion," she said.

I told Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains spokesperson Monica McCafferty that Mason did not think abortion is needed to save the life of the mother:
"Personhood USA's assertion does not acknowledge or recognize science or medicine and the fact that women experience complications before and after childbirth," McCafferty told me. "The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has been unequivocally opposed to the so-called 'personhood' laws for such reasons. In the U.S., ectopic pregnancy is the leading cause of pregnancy related death in the first trimester."

Maternal death and complications related to pregnancy such as preeclampsia, severe blood loss or other unique circumstances should be taken seriously. Planned Parenthood believes that doctors should be able to practice medicine without intrusion from politicians or the government and practice medicine according to accepted medical standards without facing prosecution. 'Personhood' amendments intrude into the practice of medicine and do not respect the real-life difficult and trying situations and decisions that women and doctors face.

Personhood USA obviously has a different view, and that's why it made Colorado's Mike Coffman its poster candidate for the Republican's future.