McCollum supports outlawing birth control?

Last week, we reported on a proposed constitutional amendment that would outlaw the use of oral contraceptives. While in Congress Bill McCollum, who is currently running for governor, supported a bill that is remarkably similar to the proposed constitutional amendment. 

From the Tampa Tribune:

McCollum supported "personhood" rights for unborn while in Congress

Published: September 14, 2009

TALLAHASSEE - A proposed Constitutional amendment that could outlaw birth control pills in Florida looks a lot like federal legislation that state Attorney General Bill McCollum co-sponsored while in Congress.

McCollum, frontrunner GOP candidate for governor, took no stand last week when asked about the "personhood" question that anti-abortion activists are trying to place on Florida's ballot. The proposed amendment to the state Constitution would establish a human being's "personhood" at the start of biological development, which its sponsors define as fertilization.

That would outlaw abortion and, critics fear, might also lead to bans on oral contraceptives and intrauterine devices, because they can prevent a fertilized egg from developing,

Asked about the initiative, McCollum campaign spokeswoman Shannon Gravitte said that McCollum is firmly "pro-life" but "will not be commenting on hypothetical issues … if this proposal ends up on the ballot voters will certainly know where General McCollum stands."

But history draws a connection between McCollum and the "personhood" initiative, since he co-sponsored similar legislation in Congress in 1988. Then-U.S. Rep. McCollum signed on to California Rep. Bob Dornan's House Joint Resolution 529, which would have assigned to "preborn" persons the protections of the Fifth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments governing rights to due process, citizenship and freedom from slavery.

The resolution defined "personhood" to mean "from the moment of conception and without regard to age, health, or condition of dependency."

Paul Dunn, campaign director for Alex Sink, state Chief Financial Officer and McCollum's Democratic rival in the gubernatorial race, called the 1988 resolution "just one example" of McCollum's Congressional record that is "far outside the mainstream."

Gravitte responded in kind, saying that Sink supports Emily's List, a fiercely pro-choice group that endorsed Sink for CFO and backs the Freedom of Choice Act, which declares the country's policy to be a woman's right to choose. That, Gravitte said, "would nullify virtually every state and federal law and policy that in any way limits access to abortion, including parental notification laws and the ban on partial-birth abortion."

Gravitte said that McCollum did not interpret the 1988 resolution as a ban on either oral contraceptives or IUDs. But she would not comment further on its parallels with the new "personhood" initiative in Florida.

"Our response is the same," she said. "General McCollum is pro-life. If this specific proposal makes it to the ballot, he will of course state his position at that time."

"Sanctity-of-life" proposals, as their proponents have sometimes called them, weren't new when McCollum signed on in 1988. Fifteen years earlier, U.S. Rep. Lawrence Hogan, R-Md., introduced a Constitutional amendment providing that "neither the United States nor any State shall deprive any human being, from the moment of conception, of life without due process of law; nor deny to any human being, from the moment of conception … equal protection of the laws."

Critics argued early on that such an amendment would do far more than outlaw abortion. In 1981, Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women, told United Press International that a "Paramount Right To Life Amendment" could lead to outlawing mainstream oral contraception known as "The Pill."

Daily birth control pills aim to prevent fertilization, but they can also prevent pregnancy by stopping a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's uterus. Intrauterine devices can likewise prevent implantation, as do emergency oral contraceptives. Critics say that assigning personhood at conception could define that form of contraception as murder.

If the Florida personhood amendment passes, makers of such contraceptives will have to "fix" them , said Pat McEwen an activist from Palm Bay who is co-sponsoring the proposal.

McCollum's past co-sponsorship of a similar resolution in Congress doesn't mean he supports writing it into Florida's Constitution.

But anti-abortion activists could place McCollum "in a political bind" if they pressure him to support their cause -- which they might, given his past support of the federal resolution, said Darryl Paulson, professor emeritus of government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, who is also a Republican.

Supporting the amendment could motivate pro-life Republicans and bring in money from around the country. But it's a high-risk game, in which McCollum would be just as likely to alienate moderates and rev up the opposition, Paulson said.

More generally, Paulson said, the question illustrates how tricky it is for veterans of Congress to run for statewide office. With a 20-year record of service in the U.S. House, McCollum has stacks of votes and sponsored legislation for opponents to pour over and pick apart.

Sink, meanwhile, is still in her first term of office. She will surely face tough questions about her banking career -- by no means the public's favorite industry these days -- but she lacks a legislative record. Come campaign time, Paulson said, "not having a political career is oftentimes more of a strength than having one."

Reporter Catherine Dolinski can be reached at (850) 222-8382.


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