The so-called "personhood" movement promoting
constitutional rights for fertilized eggs got a fresh shot in the arm in recent
days with ballot initiatives gearing up in Florida and renewing efforts in
Colorado and Montana. And a host of familiar nationally-known and emerging
local activists from hard line anti-abortion groups are leading the new charge
to ban abortion, contraception, and other comprehensive reproductive health
Pat McEwen, a veteran of Operation Save America clinic
blockades, is a co-sponsor of the ballot initiative under the aegis Personhood
Florida. She now works with Life Coalition International led by Rev. Keith
Tucci, a close associate of anti-choice zealot Randall Terry.
Tucci is most notorious as Terry’s hand-picked successor to
lead Operation Rescue after his own inner-circle attempted to oust him. Under
Tucci’s command, the group staged a six week long intimidation campaign
targeting Dr. George Tiller’s clinic in Wichita, Kan., in the summer of 1991
that resulted in more than 1,700 arrests. In a 1993 letter to the group’s
supporters, Tucci reportedly wrote, "It is
your God-given right to destroy any man or woman calling themselves
doctors who willingly slaughter innocent children."
With Operation Rescue facing federal racketeering charges
Tucci left in 1994 turning it over to another long-time Terry associate, Rev.
Flip Benham, who renamed the group Operation Save America and expanded it to
fight pornography, gay rights and Islam.
When Tiller was assassinated on May 31 by Scott Roeder, an
associate of Troy Newman’s rival Wichita-based group Operation Rescue West, McEwen wrote a vicious press release for Operation Save
America blaming Tiller for his own death.
McEwen has also been long associated with the Population Research Institute, a virulently
anti-family planning organization that purports to debunk global overpopulation
issues while smearing United Nations Family Planning (UNFPA) and U.S. Agency
for International Aid (USAID) reproductive health programs.
Despite McEwen’s deep associations in the antiabortion movement,
Personhood Florida has an uphill battle. The Tampa Tribune reports that the
group will need to "collect 676,811
petition signatures by Feb. 1 for its proposal to make the 2010
Prominent state politicians are already distancing
themselves from the proposed state Constitutional amendment that would define a
person as "from the beginning of the biological development of that human
The group is expected to file the measure with the Florida
Secretary of State following a Sept. 11 kick-off rally in Tallahassee.
By all accounts, the Florida group appears to be mimicking
its Colorado personhood forerunner last year — build a coalition from a
tight-knit group of people who oppose comprehensive reproductive health care to
lead the drive and count on the American Life League to bankroll the effort.
And already those purse strings appear to be getting
stretched quite thin.
Personhood USA, the national coordinating campaign, claims
it has launched 27 state initiatives, including a second try to radically
change the Colorado Constitution. At the same time, the Statesman notes that
the 2010 Colorado personhood ballot is aiming to run as an all-volunteer
effort — a curious and politically risky strategy considering how much
money the national groups, like ALL, have proven they can raise.
The latest Colorado attempt also includes the newly tweaked
language avoiding the term "fertilized egg" for the more ambiguous
"from the beginning of biological development" that was suggested to
the foiled 2008 activists by Georgetown U. bioethicist Dianne Irving.
After inexplicably kicking off the petition drive Aug. 25 at
a non-descript Denver post office, the group has since fanned out at the
heavily-trafficked Colorado State Fair and popular "Taste of
Colorado" festival to begin collecting 76,000 valid petition signatures by
the Feb. 15 deadline.
While the two co-sponsors of the Colorado proposal, ALL’s
former legislative analyst Gualberto Garcia Jones and Colorado Right to Life
activist Leslie Hanks were previously profiled by RH Reality Check, the
Montana proponents whose Constitutional ballot language was approved Sept. 3
have a much lower national profile.
Kalispell physician Annie Bukacek, president of the Montana
ProLife Coalition, will be going it alone with support from the Personhood USA
mothership. The Great Falls Tribune reports that Montana Right to Life, Montana
Catholic Conference and other anti-abortion groups oppose the statewide
personhood strategy as an overly broad and ineffective legal tactic for
Like its Rocky Mountain neighbor Colorado, the Montana group
will also not employ paid petition circulators to collect the approximately
40,000 voter signatures needed by July 2010 to qualify for the ballot. Its
first all-volunteer effort in 2008 to change the state Constitution, fell
nearly 50 percent short of its signature goal.
But the first real test of the new-and-improved personhood
movement will occur in Mississippi where activists are working to beat an Oct.
1 deadline to collect 90,000 petition signatures. How the campaign is
progressing is anybody’s guess.
There’s been a virtual news blackout of the group’s efforts
since late July when it was reported by state bloggers that Personhood
Mississippi had just one-third of the total signatures needed. Even Jackson,
Miss., evangelical activist and father of nine Les Riley, who’s heading up the
group, stopped writing about the petition drive on his own blog months ago. His
more pressing interest now seems to be organizing and speaking at conservative
Tea Party protests.
In a wide ranging interview Colorado
Personhood supporter and Christian talk show host Bob Enyart — whose
long-running feud with Focus on the Family’s James Dobson for not being
anti-abortion enough is the stuff of local legend — talked to Riley in April.
Said Enyart to Riley, a
one-time ultra-conservative Constitution Party candidate, "So many
pro-lifers over a period of 30 years have been taught, by example National
Right to Life. ‘Don’t mention God. Don’t quote the Bible. We’re going to win
this on the laws of science.’ But the problem with that, Les, is the laws of
science don’t use the terms right and wrong. By the laws of science, you can’t
prove that the Holocaust was wrong. So right and wrong come from God."
Look for more state updates on
the personhood movement in the coming weeks.