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During a sharp exchange at their first debate, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner insisted that GOP challenger Ed Gillespie supports laws that would provide embryos with rights the moment of conception.
"He supports a personhood amendment that is so far out of the mainstream that it would ban certain common forms of contraception," Warner, a Democrat, said during the July 26 debate. He cast Gillespie as sympathetic towards several other socially conservative policies.
Gillespie protested. "This is an area where you’re making up my views," he said. "Please provide the documentation for my support of any of those things."
Warner persisted, directly asking Gillespie if he ever supported a personhood amendment.
"No," Gillespie said. "Provide documentation of that. When did I support a personhood amendment?"
"We’ll give you the documentation," Warner replied.
Shortly after the debate, his campaign put out an email saying that Gillespie was chairman of the Republican National Committee in 2004 when the party adopted a national platform calling for a personhood amendment.
The platform said, "As a country, we must keep our pledge to the first guarantee of the Declaration of Independence. That is why we say the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make it clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children."
As our colleagues at PolitiFact national have noted, the human life amendment would assert that legal personhood begins at conception and with it, constitutional protection.
Personhood legislation has drawn enormous debate in Virginia and across the nation. Supporters say the laws provide a legal remedy if an unborn child is killed by neglect or a third party. Opponents say the measures are a ruse to challenge rights to abortion and contraceptives that could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a uterus.
Gillespie "had an understanding of the platform, and what was in it," said David Turner, Warner’s campaign spokesman. "He was chair of the RNC and on the platform committee that crafted the language."
Gillespie was RNC chairman from 2003 to 2005. We should note that GOP has adopted platforms calling for a human life amendment at each of its national conventions since 1984, according to records kept by the American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
All this is in the past, however. Warner’s statement was in the present tense. He said Gillespie "supports a personhood amendment."
Turner shifted to 2014 by pointing to the National Right to Life’s endorsement of Gillespie in May. The anti-abortion group said Gillespie, when he was RNC chairman, "worked closely with pro-life leaders to ensure the platform remained resolute in seeking to restore legal protection to unborn children threatened by abortion…"
We repeatedly asked officials at National Right to Life group to specify actions Gillespie took to ensure the GOP stood hard on a personhood amendment but didn’t receive a direct answer.
Turner noted that Gillespie tweeted news of his Right to Life endorsement. "By touting a release that specifically referenced his work on a platform that had language described as calling for a personhood amendment, he has effectively endorsed that work during this campaign," Turner emailed.
Gillespie, on his website, says he’s "pro-life," and opposes taxpayer funding of abortion. He doesn’t mention a personhood amendment. Paul Logan, Gillespie’s campaign spokesman, emailed us last week that "Ed doesn’t support a personhood amendment."
Warner says Gillespie "supports a personhood amendment." Gillespie says he doesn’t and challenged the senator to prove his claim.
Gillespie was certainly national GOP chairman in 2004 when the party adopted a platform supporting a human life amendment. But we haven’t seen any clear personal expression from his supporting such a law either then or now.
So Warner has failed to prove his claim. We rate Warner’s statement False.
The Virginia Bar Association U.S. Senate debate, July 26, 2014. (The exchange about personhood occurs at 1:19:00 into video).
Friends of Mark Warner, "Fact: Ed Gillespie does not trust women to make their own health decisions," July 26, 2014.
Interview with David Turner, spokesman for Mark Warner’s campaign, July 30, 2014.
Interview with Joanne Peters, deputy campaign manager for Mark Warner’s campaign, July 30, 2014.
Email from Paul Logan, spokesman for Ed Gillespie for Senate, July 30, 2014.
Email from Derrick Jones, communications director for the National Right to Life Committee, July 30, 2014.
Ed Gillespie for Senate, "Ed on the issues," accessed July 30, 2014.
National Right to Life Victory Fund, "National Right to Life endorses Gillespie in Virginia Senate race," May 30, 2014.
The Democratic Party of Virginia, "The company Ed keeps: Women’s health edition: Friends of Ed’s who support the mandatory ultrasound bill," May 13, 2014.
The Democratic Party of Virginia "Don’t take our word: Idealogical crusader Obenshain says he and Gillespie are one and the same: ‘My values are his values,’" May 1, 2014.
Politico, "Mark Warner on offense in Virginia Senate debate," July 26, 2014.
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