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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Columns

Westneat: GOP makes message clear

Party’s rank and file declare their extremism in black and white

By Danny Westneat
Published: June 22, 2024, 6:01am

Thank you, Republican rank and file. You keep putting down in writing what the smooth-talking politicians won’t admit.

Earlier this spring it was the Washington GOP, which came right out and said that it’s no longer into democracy.

“We . . . oppose legislation which makes our nation more democratic in nature,” was how they put it in a bracingly blunt resolution at the state GOP convention in Spokane.

Well now it’s our neighbors over in Idaho, who last weekend had their state Republican convention in Coeur d’Alene. They also approved a bunch of anti-democratic stuff, but where they truly contributed to the national understanding of where things are headed was in their adopted plank titled “Defining Human Personhood.”

A person, the Idaho platform now reads, is any life from the moment of conception, or when sperm joins egg. The “intentional taking of human life” after that point is murder. In this spirit, also opposed is “the destruction of human embryos.”

“We support the criminalization of all murders by abortion within the state’s jurisdiction,” the platform says.

That part about the destruction of human embryos means that the Republican Party in Idaho apparently just came out against in vitro fertilization, or IVF. That fertility procedure often results in surplus embryos being frozen or destroyed.

The party also appears to be in favor of bringing women up on murder charges if they have an abortion — or even if they use some post-conception birth control measures such as the morning-after pill.

Hold on, you may be saying to yourself. These party platforms are little more than crazed fever dreams. They don’t amount to anything. They aren’t actually going to ban IVF or contraception, or charge anybody with murder. So what’s all the fuss about?

Washington state’s senior senator, a Democrat, has for the past few weeks been shouting into the political void that yes, the signs are that Republicans really are going to try to do all that.

Last week, Patty Murray ran a bill in the U.S. Senate to guarantee access to in vitro fertilization procedures. It was a reaction to the Alabama ruling earlier this year that surplus embryos are people, and so disposing of them is “wrongful death.” (The Alabama Legislature later restored IVF in that state, but didn’t address the embryo-person issue.) A convention of Southern Baptists in Indianapolis also recently voted to oppose IVF.

But Murray’s bill was blocked by Republicans, who said this is all a fake controversy. “Why should we vote for a bill that fixes a nonexistent problem? There’s not a problem. There’s no restrictions on IVF, nor should there be,” said Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

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Awkward then, when Republicans in Idaho turn right around a few days later and say: Oh yes, there should be.

Murray points to Project 2025, a 900-page platform for the next Republican president created by the Heritage Foundation, Federalist Society and 50 conservative groups. It calls for cracking down both on abortion and forms of contraception such as Plan B, and even rebranding the federal Health and Human Services agency as the “Department of Life.”

Politics is the art of persuasion, which means it’s also often about deception. And on this issue, Republican messaging is desperately seeking to soften up the rough edges to make all this more palatable for the masses. But base-level Republicans, like those in Idaho, keep telling the truth,

“Some planks of the Idaho Republican Party platform have become so radicalized and extreme, no one should support them,” an aghast Idaho Statesmen newspaper in Boise editorialized this week.

Banning IVF to protect petri dish embryos would mean “couples who are having trouble conceiving would have to move to another state or travel elsewhere for treatments,” the paper said.

Well, Washington treated Idaho’s COVID-19 patients when they rationed pandemic care. Idaho women now are forced to cross the border to get abortion care. So it’s not much of a stretch to add fertility care to this medical underground railroad.

Nonexistent issue? That’s the gauzy spin from the top. But down at the bottom of the GOP, in state after state, they keep blurting out the opposite.

It’s right there in writing, months before the election, and I salute them for it. Because then nobody can claim they didn’t know.