New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, surely eying the religious righteousness of the 2016 presidential primary race, has had a beautiful epiphany: he won't get anywhere in this present-day Republican Party without endorsing a 20-week abortion ban. And so, after years of supporting legal abortion in a state with even stronger abortion-rights support, Christie has finally joined the ranks of true conservative men. Too bad idol Bruce Springsteen would totally not approve.
But Christie was "Born to Run" — in the 2016 presidential election, that is. Not through highways in Central Jersey. While Christie hasn't announced his bid yet, he's gearing up by making the conservative rounds, which include a stop at anti-abortion headquarters Susan B. Anthony List.
According to Bloomberg Politics, the anti-abortion "women's" PAC has been asking prospective presidential candidates to pledge their commitment to abortion bans, because personhood for embryos is now part of the official Republican Party plank. SBA List is particularly concerned with passing a federal 20-week abortion ban, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, and has even created a "2016: Where Do They Stand?" resource guide on the issue.
Christie, stuck being a well-liked governor in a state with residents who don't always like his anti-family planning policies, dragged his feet on the pledge, letting fellow potential nominees Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, and Mike Huckabee steal his political thunder. But on Monday, SBA List released this statement on Christie's behalf:
I am proud to be a pro-life Republican. I believe that every life is an individual gift from God, and that no life is disposable. When I was preparing to run for Governor of New Jersey there were those who told me there was no way I would be elected as a pro-life candidate. I told them that they were wrong, that the voters would accept the sincerity of my beliefs even if they felt differently. Today, I am a living example that being pro-life is not a political liability anywhere in America.
Oh yeah, and about that whole 20-week abortion-ban thing:
I also know that there are areas where all Americans – regardless of being pro-life or pro-choice – can come together. One proposal that brings Americans together is the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act which would protect unborn children beginning at 20 weeks, or five months of pregnancy, based on their ability to feel pain. America is one of just seven countries that permits elective abortions past this point. We can do far better than this. I urge Congress to take swift action on this important issue.
In a statement, SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser didn't so much applaud Christie's pledge, but drive in the fact that any Republican presidential candidate in 2016 is locked into the 20-week abortion ban. Abortion, Dannenfelser said, will once again be a major issue in a presidential race:
There is complete unity on the Republican side around this highly reasonable proposal to protect pain-capable children after five months. Meanwhile, the national Democratic Party and its leaders remind us almost daily of the abortion lobby’s importance in their policy and politics. We expect this clear difference to be a focal point of the general election debate.
But as Bloomberg's David Weigel and others have already pointed out, Christie didn't use to be so anti-abortion. When Christie ran for the New Jersey Senate in 1993, he did so on a platform supporting abortion rights. After he became governor in 2009, Christie started touting an anti-abortion plank, telling former CNN host Piers Morgan in 2011:
When my wife was pregnant with our daughter, Sarah, who is now 15, we happened to go to one of the prenatal visits at 13 weeks,” he told Piers Morgan, then of CNN, in 2011. “They put the Doppler on my wife’s abdomen, who didn’t look at all pregnant at that point, visibly. And we heard this incredibly strong heartbeat. ... I would say that a week ago that wasn’t a life. And I heard that heartbeat. That’s a life. And it — it led to me having a real reflection on my position. And when I took time to reflect on it, I just said, you know what, I’m not comfortable with that anymore. That was back in 1995, and I’ve been pro-life ever since.
However, the Daily Beast's Olivia Nuzzi noted that in a 2009 press release, published on Politicker NJ, Democratic gubernatorial opponent Steve Lonegan accused Christie of flip-flopping on abortion to win over anti-abortion conservatives in the heavily "blue" state. Lonegan's campaign pointed to a 1996 article from The Bergen Record, which quoted Christie as saying, "I'm pro-choice."
While campaigning at the time, Lonegan said, "No one believes that [Christie's anti-abortion stance] for a minute. ... Chris Christie's position on abortion is the same as its always been. He supports Roe v. Wade as the 'law of the land' and would 'enforce' it as Governor."
It's true that Christie has protected Roe v. Wade in the state of New Jersey. In 2015, New Jersey remains one of the most "pro-choice" states, with minimal restrictions on abortion. NARAL Pro-Choice America rates New Jersey "A-" on abortion and reproductive health care, acknowledging that the state allows Medicaid-funded abortions for low-income women, guarantees that a birth control prescription must be filled, and protects abortion rights in its constitution.
However, Christie has vetoed family-planning funding five times throughout his tenure as governor. The loss of $7.5 million in family-planning funds each year has led to at least six clinic closures in the state, including two Planned Parenthood centers. These clinics not only provided abortion, but also contraception, STD testing, cancer screenings, and other reproductive and general health care, particularly for low-income residents.
So, how seriously should we take Christie's pro-life epiphany? When it comes to those line-item vetoes on reproductive health, we should take him very, very seriously now that he's become a politician who "thinks he knows best," the staff of The Star-Ledger writes in an editorial published Wednesday:
Remember, this federal proposal isn't just a declaration of his own stance on abortion. It is an inflexible mandate for every woman. Christie wants to stand between a woman and her doctor. But without knowing anything about her particular circumstances, what gives him the right?
Christie has so far not announced an official run, although he has formed a PAC to raise funds. Last week, he told Fox News he was still in the "decision-making process."
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