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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Zygote Politics

It is often argued that the contemporary conservative movement possesses a laser-like focus on a “smaller government” agenda at the expense of the Cultural Right’s longstanding support for government intervention in private sexual and reproductive matters. You might even think the Cultural Right is in retreat, and on a few issues, like DADT, it certainly is.
But on core issues of reproductive rights, social conservatives are as aggressive as ever, and in some respects, more radical. A good example of that little-discussed phenomenon is the renewed drive of the Right-to-Life movement to go beyond tactical efforts to impose marginal limits on late-term abortions or harrass abortion providers, or even to reverse Roe v. Wade, and instead demand legal recognition of its conviction that protection of human life should begin at the moment of fertilization.
This is the conviction that has always been at the root of hostility to embryonic stem cell research, nothwithstanding scare-talk about human cloning. But more recently, many right-to-life activists have taken the logical next step by pursuing restrictions on in vitro fertilization insofar is it involves creation of “surplus” embryos (echoing developments in Europe, notably Italy).
The shift towards what might be called “zygote politics”–which extends anti-abortion politics into the politically treacherous area of infertility treatments and even efforts to ban oral contraceptives (on grounds that they are actually abortifacients), has popped up this year in the highly competitive Republican gubernatorial primary in Georgia. Georgia RTL, the state’s premier anti-abortion group and a major player in GOP politics, endorsed all but one of the Republican gubernatorial candidates, and then went out of its way to attack the exception, Secretary of State Karen Handel. Here’s how Handel’s campaign described the conflict:

GRTL’s real problem with Karen is twofold: First, they disagree with her stance regarding exceptions to an abortion ban in cases of rape and incest.
Secondly, Karen opposes the group’s push to ban invitro fertilization, which has helped so many couples realize their dream of having children. The group has proposed legislation to virtually eliminate invitro.
In a meeting with Karen, the group’s leadership told her directly that fertility treatments are immoral and that their goal is to completely ban the procedure.

This was a rather pointed and potentially counter-productive personal rebuke, since Handel and her husband are childless, and might have some natural allies among couples resorting to IV clinics to have children.
What makes this contretemps especially interesting is that Handel occupies very much the same ideological turf as Nikki Haley in next-door SC: a “conservative reformer” determined to take on the “good ol’ boys” whose power lust has overriden their alleged right-wing principles. Handel hasn’t been endorsed by Sarah Palin yet, but she’s a natural Mama Grizzly, or at least was until she got cross-ways with the right-to-life movement, which is Palin’s original base in the GOP. Palin has already made some of her old allies mad by endorsing Terry Branstad over Bob Vander Plaats in Iowa; a second gesture against RTL orthodoxy would really raise eyebrows.
But conversely, anti-abortion activists are in serious danger of getting cross-ways with middle-class conservative voters who don’t mind shutting down abortion clinics but are likely to be less than enthusiastic about doing the same with IV clinics, much less banning the Pill. It’s all well worth watching in the future.

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