An awful lot of the time, political media let the antichoice movement get away with a lot of very deliberate imprecision. To read some accounts, you’d get the idea antichoicers are only concerned about preventing “late-term” abortions carried out for disreputable purposes by conscienceless “butchers.”

But as is their wont, these birds cannot perpetually disguise their extremism, especially when they are in the process of administering litmus tests to Republican presidential candidates. And so there was been some publicity about arguments between those who will at least temporarily tolerate certain exceptions to abortion bans–regarding pregnancies resulting from rape and incest, or that threaten the life of the woman involved–and those who don’t.

But all the “exception” talk still misses the more fundamental point of the rule from which exceptions are granted. And bless him, Tom Edsall decided to grill antichoice groups and some GOP presidential candidates on that little matter.

Edsall is fascinated, as I have been for some time now, by the orthodox RTL position that fully-fledged human beings deserving legal protection are formed at the moment an ovum is fertilized by a sperm. Among other things, this means contraceptive methods that prevent (or may prevent) the implantation of fertilized ova in the uterine wall are morally indistinguishable from a late-term abortion–or for that matter, from killing an adult human being. Lest you think that’s an exotic position, it’s what was at the heart of the Hobby Lobby litigation, since the owners of that company professed a religiously-based belief that IUDs and Plan B contraceptives included in the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage mandate are in fact abortifacients.

After establishing that every major RTL organization supports the “fertilization” standard for protected human life, and also maintains the dubious claim that IUDs and morning-after pills kill a fertilized ovum, Edsall proceeded to ask Republican campaigns where they stood. The Bush, Walker, Cruz, Fiorina and Kasich campaigns either did not respond or did not deal with the actual question. Two other campaigns in public statements have sort of straddled:

In public statements, Rubio and Ben Carson have attempted to have it both ways. The two declare that they believe life begins at conception. At the same time, Rubio and Carson have endorsed the use of IUDs and the morning after pill despite the view prevalent in the anti-abortion community that these contraceptive devices are abortifacients.

It will be interesting to track their responses when challenged by social conservatives as the campaign progresses.

Yeah, and it will also be interesting to see if anyone can ever pin down Donald Trump on the subject. He’s raised imprecision on the issues to a veritable art form.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.