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Political Mercury

At gut-check time with abortion politics, is Ernst a Clinton in conservative clothing?


It’s a line of a questioning most pro-life candidates don’t like. Count our new U.S. senator among them.

When asked, they often claim they never thought about it, that they don’t answer “hypotheticals.”

Should people who have abortions or doctors who perform them be fined — like we do with speeders on our highways — or should they be tossed into jails or strapped into an electric chair?

Sen. Joni Ernst Photo by Douglas Burns

Sen. Joni Ernst
Photo by Douglas Burns

Misdemeanor or felony?

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There’s a big difference.

But pro-life candidates rarely talk about this.

They may say, “Let the penalty fit the crime,” but on abortion they won’t say what the penalty should be.

So in Political Mercury’s first interview with Sen. Joni Ernst we asked her the following: If your pro-life views prevail and abortion is prohibited, what should the penalty be for a woman who has an abortion and a doctor who provides one?

“That’s a hypothetical and so I’m not going to go…” Ernst said.

But isn’t that the endgame of the pro-life movement?

“It would be, I think, to just know that there are supports in place and that children are able to find loving homes,” Ernst said. “But it is a hypothetical at this point because we do have a Supreme Court decision (Roe V. Wade) that is out there that keeps it legal.”

Does Ernst, who spotlighted her anti-abortion stance as the leading issue on her campaign website, think abortion should be criminalized?

“I’m not going to go into that,” Ernst said in the interview. “My position is pro-life.”

How can you be pro-life politically without saying you want penalties applied to people for being involved in abortions?

“I’m not going to go down that avenue because we have a Supreme Court ruling in place,” Ernst said. “But what I want to do is ensure that mothers, or pregnant women, when they are pregnant, they know that there other options out there. I would love to see every child saved. But that’s not the case right now.”

We are growing an odd crop of social conservatives in Red Oak these days.

Ernst, based on her answers to straightforward, fundamental questions about abortion, would seem to be more in line with Bill Clinton’s “safe, legal and rare” positioning when it comes to any government regulation of the termination of pregnancies.

In fact, if you examine Ernst’s answers, she’s essentially parroting the pleas of generally liberal women’s-center-advocate types who tell us: we need more “supports” (Ernst’s word) and information on “options.”

Forget jail time, ladies. Hold on to that medical license, Dr. Abortion.

Ernst, it seems, would have us print more brochures showing happily adopted babies, maybe add some tax credits to juice such infant transfers from unwanting parents to wanting ones.

In the contemporary debate over abortion, what separates pro-life from pro-choice is one word: criminalization.

I don’t think Joni Ernst believes abortion is murder. And if she won’t call abortion murder, is she really pro-life?

Fawning fans of her folksy campaign advertisements were content with Ernst after hearing her say “pro-life.” But in the defining moment, Ernst doesn’t stand with movement conservatives on abortion.

She couldn’t bring herself to simply say abortion is a crime that should be punished?

Well, senator, what is abortion then? A regrettable procedure?

Iowans deserve the confusion. We allow candidates to run as unwrapped brands and don’t challenge them enough as people. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who resides in Carroll. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.

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