When Donald Trump said that if abortion is outlawed in the U.S. (as he would like it to be) there would have to be "some sort of punishment" for women who have illegal abortions, he was clumsily pointing out the logical consequence of laws criminalizing abortion. Trump's main rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz, immediately saw an opportunity to paint himself as moderate in comparison, saying that "of course we shouldn’t be talking about punishing women."
Cruz has mastered the anti-choice movement's careful talking points -- which include a strict gag on talking about punishing women or about cases such as rape -- but that doesn't mean his approach to reproductive rights isn't downright terrifying. The Texas senator has signaled his true intent when it comes to reproductive rights by enthusiastically embracing the farthest fringes of the anti-abortion movement. Zealous anti-choice activists who have long been pushed to the side of a movement trying to come across as kinder and gentler have suddenly found themselves welcomed to the Cruz campaign with open arms.
Take Troy Newman.
Newman, who heads a group called Operation Rescue, has spent decades at the fringes of the anti-choice movement, leading protests in front of clinics and harassing clinic workers at home and in their communities. His second-in-command at Operation Rescue is a woman named Cheryl Sullenger who spent time in federal prison for taking part in an attempt to bomb an abortion clinic in California. When the Kansas abortion provider George Tiller was assassinated in his church in 2009, it came out that his murderer, Scott Roeder, had hung around the fringes of Newman and Sullenger's group, although they immediately tried to wash their hands of him. Newman had moved his group to Wichita in order to intensify the harassment campaign against Tiller; Roeder told one reporter that he spoke with Newman about "justified" homicide of abortion providers and owned a signed a copy of Newman and Sullenger's book “Their Blood Cries Out.”
Newman has argued that another man who murdered an abortion provider should have been allowed to argue that the crime was justifiable homicide. He once sent out a press statement rejoicing in the death of another abortion provider from leukemia.
All of this activism is tinged with Newman's particular brand of fire and brimstone. "Their Blood Cries Out," which Newman and Sullenger published in the early 2000s, paints a picture of a righteous God furious with the United States for having "abrogated its responsibility" to punish those involved in abortion, including executing abortion providers. Also included in Newman's list of the "bloodguilty" are women who have abortions, whom he argues are no different than a "contract killer." Possible signs of God's fury for legal abortion, he wrote, were the September 11 terrorist attacks, the AIDS crisis, natural disasters and road rage. More recently he has added to that list the drought in California.
Newman, faced with criticism for his execution comment, now says that he just wants abortion providers to be sentenced to life in prison.
Newman got a major professional boost last year when he helped to create the series of videos smearing Planned Parenthood, which have energized the anti-choice fringe and were cited on Republican debate stages and in Congress.
Then he got appointed national co-chair of the Cruz campaign's "pro-life" coalition.
Cruz is trying to present different messages on abortion rights to different audiences, for instance signing a pledge to support a radical "personhood" amendment that would criminalize nearly all abortion and jeopardize common forms of birth control, and then saying he has "not supported personhood legislation." But the choice of Newman as part of his campaign shows where Cruz's anti-choice views really lie. And that should be terrifying to all of us.