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Loss steels resolve in ‘personhood’ movement

Anti-abortion activists ‘ready to press forward’

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The Nov. 8 defeat of the "personhood" amendment in Mississippi is galvanizing supporters to have a do-over in the state and also push measures in Colorado, Virginia and at least eight other states, say leaders of the anti-abortion movement.

"I can tell you that we are going to press forward. ... We've got plans to continue a massive grass-roots campaign," as well as work with the legislature, said Les Riley, leader of Personhood Mississippi.

"We realize we are changing a culture, and we can't expect to change the culture with one election. That's why we are willing to do this as many times as it takes," said Jennifer Mason, spokeswoman for Personhood USA, which supports coast-to-coast measures seeking to establish human rights at conception.

Petition drives for personhood measures are taking shape or are under way in California, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Nevada, Ohio and Oregon. In addition, lawmakers in Wisconsin and Virginia have introduced personhood legislation, while lawmakers in Georgia have announced plans to do so.

Those amendments will likely face fierce opposition from pro-choice groups — and some pro-life groups.

"Right-wing extremists intend to put so-called 'personhood' amendments on as many state ballots as they can," the National Organization for Women said in a recent year-end fundraising appeal to supporters.

"Enactment of the so-called 'Personhood' Amendment to the Wisconsin state constitution is a threat to the protection of Wisconsin unborn children," Wisconsin Right to Life said after a group of lawmakers introduced a personhood bill last month.

To many pro-life leaders, however, personhood is the battleground of the 21st century.

Emerging issues such as cloning, embryo experimentation and euthanasia necessitate ensuring the right to life for human beings, "womb to tomb," say personhood supporters such as Georgia Right to Life President Daniel Becker.

"The pro-life movement must mature beyond the singular goal of 'saving babies' and engage our current 'culture of death,' " Mr. Becker wrote in his book on personhood this year. "Personhood is the means."

The stunning defeat of Mississippi's Amendment 26 — 58 percent of voters rejected it although it was expected to pass handily in the strongly pro-life state — revealed numerous campaign weaknesses.

Personhood Mississippi polled about 10,000 people after the vote, Mr. Riley said. Surprisingly, the biggest reason people voted "no" on personhood was fear that it would prevent infertile couples from using in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to have a baby. Another big fear was that a personhood amendment would prevent pregnant women from getting lifesaving medical treatment.

Those and other fears were advanced by media campaigns, billboards and materials distributed by opponents of Amendment 26 — Mississippians for Healthy Families collected more than $1 million, mostly from Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its chapters, to defeat the amendment.

After the vote, though, a lot of people felt they were deceived, Mr. Riley said. Many have called to say they regret voting no and say, "I want to help you next time,"he said.

The Colorado amendment for 2012 reflects some lessons learned: It clarifies that "only birth control that kills a person" and "only in-vitro fertilization and assisted reproduction that kills a person" would be affected by the amendment and that it does not prevent medical treatment for life-threatening conditions such as cancer, ectopic pregnancies and placenta previa.

"We think that by including a little more information to prohibit our opposition from using these scare tactics will benefit us, while easing voters' minds," said Mrs. Mason, who is married to Personhood USA President Keith Mason.

The Colorado amendment's new language "is an obvious effort to address some of the weaknesses in past proposals and be more clear about what the intent is," said Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, which, he said, takes a "state-by-state" approach on whether to support personhood amendments.

But such detail surely will open the Colorado personhood campaign to political debates on each of those points, he said. "It won't be just an abortion issue; it will be an IVF issue. ... You will have a campaign on every subsection of it."

Mrs. Mason is undeterred, saying she thinks young Americans are ready to push forward with personhood.

"I feel like my [baby boomer] parents' generation had time to change Roe v. Wade and fight against it, and nothing happened," she said. "Believe me, we have the most volunteers of any pro-life group in the country. And most of these volunteers are young people who want to see a change."

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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