A new anti-abortion group called Montana ProLife Coalition launched a campaign today to change the state’s constitution to define a person as “all human beings, irrespective of age, health, function, physical and/or mental dependency or method of reproduction, from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.”
Former Rep. Rick Jore, C-Ronan, authored the three ballot initiative proposals that the group submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office for consideration. They hope to gather the necessary number of signatures to get the proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2010 ballot.
The idea behind “personhood” initiatives is to try to exploit a perceived weakness in Justice Harry Blackmun’s majority opinion in the landmark 1973 Roe V. Wade decision. Supporters of the measure hope that the passage of such an initiative would present a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.
Kalispell physician Annie Bukacek, president of the Montana ProLife Coalition, made that point at today’s press conference:
“The root of legalization of abortion is the denial of personhood. Justice Blackmun, who wrote the majority decision in Roe v. Wade, himself said that if the personhood of the unborn was established, then their right to life is guaranteed specifically by the 14th Amendment.”
These kinds of amendments have divided the anti-abortion community. Some prominent anti-abortion groups contend that setting up a challenge to Roe v. Wade, and then losing, could have costly consequences":
"The [U.S. Supreme] Court (if it does review the case) is likely to switch to a more absolutist equal protection rationale for the abortion right, and all current regulations on abortion would be subject to, and likely struck down under, this new rationale. This would have a devastating effect on current protections for the unborn," said an analysis by James Bopp Jr. and Richard E. Coleson.
In 2008 the Montana Catholic Conference refused to support a Montana personhood ballot initiative (that effort fell about 20,000 signatures short of making the ballot).
Moe Wosepka, executive director of the Montana Catholic Conference, said at the time that the bishops struggled with the decision not to support the measure, but decided that in the end, the language of the proposed amendment was too broad. (sorry, no links to the 2008 GF Trib story).
"It defines person without any exceptions and it affects several different parts of our state statutes," Wosepka said. "Since it affects such a wide range of laws with very little definition, I just don't think it would ever stand up (in court)."
Allyson Hagen, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Montana said the personhood initiative is “an attempt to attack our constitutional right to privacy and eliminate access to abortion care for women.”
“Whether or not they get on the ballot, I think that the vast majority of Montanans are going to oppose an extreme initiative like this one.
I think Montanans believe very strongly in the right to privacy, and the decisions regarding pregnancy should be between a woman and her doctor, not with the Legislature or the government.”
The 2008 initiative fell more than 18,000 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot. Asked if Montana ProLife Coalition would turn to paid signature gatherers for this year's campaign, Bukacek and Jore said "no." It's worth noting that Trevis Butcher, treasurer and cheif spokesman for Montanans in Action and veteran of Montana initiative campaigns, sits on the Montana ProLife Coalition Board.
You can read my full report in tomorrow’s Great Falls Tribune.