Abortion foes try hard on ban
September 14, 2009
There's nothing subtle about the sales pitch by abortion opponents who are gathering signatures at the Colorado State Fair for a ballot measure that would give legal rights to fertilized embryos. "Would you like to sign a petition to stop abortion?" Asks Keith Mason, head of suburban Denver's Personhood USA. Mason and a corps of volunteers gathered thousands of signatures during the two-week fair to have Colorado's constitution define people from "the beginning of biological development of a human being." "I think that people are people from the time they are conceived, and they should be treated as such," said Pat Kraus of La Junta, 61, who signed the petition at a booth under a "LIFE COUNTS" banner. Personhood USA is similar to anti-abortion campaigns before it, but it's taking a bolder approach. It wants to end all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest, by adding fertilized embryos to constitutional and legal definitions of humans. Colorado last year became the first state where a "personhood" amendment made the ballot but it was soundly defeated by 73 percent of voters. This year, proposed laws were rejected in the state legislatures of Montana and North Dakota. Still, the movement is spreading. Amendment language has been cleared, with petition drives under way, in Colorado, Mississippi, Montana and Nevada. Amendment language will be filed later this month in Cal i fornia and Florida. Personhood USA says it has chapters in 29 states working to get "personhood" measures on 2010 ballots or before state legislatures. Mason says the approach is catching on with abortion opponents tired of incremental efforts against abortion. As was the case last year in Colorado, the "personhood" attempts will likely fail, Mason says, but at least they get right to the point of whether unborn children should have legal rights. "We're taking a stand and waiting for the culture to change around us. Instead of saying, 'What can we get?' We're saying, 'What do we believe and what do we need to do?'" Not all abortion opponents agree with the "personhood" campaign. Catholic bishops in Colorado, Montana and North Dakota, as well as the National Right to Life group, didn't endorsed the amendments or bills. They called the "personhood" amendments a roundabout way of challenging abortion rights and preferred a direct refutal of the Roe v. Wade decision giving abortions constitutional protection. They haven't yet said whether they'd back next year's proposed amendments. Some abortion opponents say the "personhood" movement would more effectively ban abortions, and they don't mind the long odds for success. "It reorients the debate and gets us to the core of the issue," said Les Riley of Pontotoc, Miss., a tractor salesman and father of 10 who is gathering signatures to put the amendment on Mississippi ballots next year. Riley says he's halfway to getting the 90,000 signatures needed. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, signed the petition in July. Riley says the ballot effort has been a blessing, even if it fails there, too. "The opportunities to minister to people one-on-one, it's amazing," Riley said. Abortion-rights supporters aren't sure what to make of the "personhood" movement. They point out that adoption of "personhood" definitions could affect fertility doctors because some treatments use multiple fertilized eggs. They warn of nightmare legal requirements for pregnant woman, such as possible criminal child abuse charges if they fail to seek prenatal care. The criticisms helped sink Colorado's amendment last year. And that's the abortion rights supporters' dilemma. With "personhood" proposals faring so badly so far, how much money and time should they spend defeating these attempts? "For us, you do scratch your head and say, 'How often do we need to fight this?'" said Emilie Ailts, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado. The Colorado coalition that defeated last year's "personhood" amendment called "Protect Families, Protect Choices" says it will fight again if Personhood USA collects enough signatures. But s p o k e s w o m a n C r y s t a l Clinkenbeard says abortionright supporters are still sizing up their opponents. "They are planning on coming back time and again, and we'll be there to fight them. But at this point we can't say how much we're going to do," Clinkenbeard said. "Personhood" backers don't seem to mind if they're almost written off. With time, they say, the public will come around to giving legal rights to fertilized eggs. "Every attempt to save the life of a child is worthy," said the Rev. Walter Hoye of the Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in Berkeley, Calif. Hoye is pushing the measure in California and has been jailed in that state for breaking an Oakland law that creates a buffer zone between anti-abortion protesters and abortion clinics. "Personhood represents the endgame. This is it. This is saying, a person is worthy of our love and affection and deserves legal protection," Hoye said.