The beat goes on for a band of absolutist anti-choice advocates who are pushing to legally define “personhood” as beginning at the moment of conception.
The ballot measure is the brainchild of ultra-conservative Christians and is intended to confer civil rights protections to “zygote Americans” in state constitutions. Despite its seemingly innocuous name, their true aim is to ban abortion, contraception, in-vitro fertilizations and embryonic stem cell research over narrow fundamentalist Biblical interpretations of reproduction. The personhood concept has been panned by legal scholars and a majority of anti-choice advocates as an amateurish misreading of the constitutional law provisions in Roe v Wade and other settled case law on abortion.
Thus far, the group claims it is working to put the question to voters in 40 states. Here’s a round up of their most recent efforts.
Colorado makes ballot
A second attempt to define a “person” from the moment of conception has squeaked onto the 2010 Colorado ballot.
Colorado Secretary of State spokesman Rich Coolidge said late Friday that Colorado Personhood had exceeded the petition signature requirement after a raucous month of getting rejected on its first batch and a mad scramble to collect more names that ended with a lawsuit threat.
The first batch of petitions submitted Feb. 12 failed to make the threshold of 76,047 valid signatures after state election officials rejected 15,700 names over lapsed voter registrations and duplicate signatures. A 15-day cure period allowed the anti-choice group to re-circulate its petitions to add to the previously accepted ones.
All told, elections officials accepted 95,884 signatures from both circulation efforts. Coolidge said in the second round nearly 12,000 signatures were thrown out as duplicates, unregistered voters or incorrectly certified by notaries. A 2009 state law requires notaries to verify the petition circulators’ “personhood” through a government-issued identification card. State lawmakers strengthened several laws guiding citizen initiatives following a media firestorm over 2008 ballot proponents duping voters into signing petitions by lying about the measures’ intentions.
Personhood Colorado employed notaries who certified the petitions through “personal knowledge” — an antiquated approval no longer accepted by state elections officials. Coolidge also noted that some circulators were signing their own petitions multiple times.
Personhood Colorado complained that it was not notified that the law had changed. Coolidge responded that the rule was clearly communicated during petition circulator trainings and on its Web site. Keith Mason, co-founder of Personhood USA, said last week the group is mulling a lawsuit against the Colorado Secretary of State over the notary flap.
A nearly identical citizen initiative in 2008, which Mason helped lead as the petition director, was trounced 73-27 at the polls. This latest attempt will go before Colorado voters as Amendment 62 on Nov. 3. Pro-choice advocates have vowed to vigorously oppose it.
See you in court
Vague language, hidden intent and broad ramifications are some of the legal arguments being made by opponents of the proposed Nevada personhood measure.
A successful Jan. lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union argued the ballot language did not use the words “abortion,” “birth control” or “fertilization” in an attempt to confuse voters about its purpose, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
District Judge Todd Russell agreed, ruling that the measure contained more than a single subject in violation of state law knocking it off the state ballot.
Personhood Nevada appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court contending there is no requirement to be more specific about the consequences of the proposed law.
The court agreed to expedite the case and will open with oral arguments on April 6 in Las Vegas.
As is the case in other states, anti-choice groups are publicly opposing the Nevada measure.
Don Nelson of Nevada Life griped, “This bill has no chance of ending abortion in America or in Nevada. And the effect of this could add more precedence to supporting Roe v. Wade.”
Nelson was joined by hard-liners the Nevada Eagle Forum, Nevada Families and Nevada Independent American Party, a political group formally affiliated with the Christian paleo-conservative Constitution Party.
Should the personhood activists prevail in the Supreme Court, the group still has some big hurdles to cross. They must collect 97,200 voter signatures by June 15 to get on the 2010 ballot. And a quirk in Nevada law requires the measure to be passed in two concurrent elections in order to amend the state constitution.
Florida Spring Break belly flop
Personhood Florida activists swarmed Spring Break hot spots earlier this month with gruesome protest signs and laps around the block by the infamous “Truth Truck” plastered with Biblical quotes and more disturbing images of miscarried fetuses.
But it’s not just bikini-clad coeds who snubbed the “egg as a person” movement like a pale, skinny guy on the beach; so has the Florida Catholic Conference.
It also didn’t go over well with Sunshine State locals and appeared to be completely ignored by hard-partying college students.
News reports and online comments on local media Web sites lit up with ticked off citizens and parents trying to shield their children from the protesters. Sixty-two percent of readers responded that Personhood Florida should not be allowed to display graphic signs at intersections on an admittedly unscientific poll on TCPalm.com, the primary newspaper serving Port St. Lucie and the Palm Beach region.
Besides the outraged replies, the publicity stunt also calls into question the group’s real engagement with the local community it claims to speak for.
While circulating petitions to capture the more than 676,811 registered voter signatures to get the measure on the 2012 ballot no one apparently asked the logical question: Just who is out in the surf in the middle of what Floridians consider “the dead of winter?” It’s a time when beaches are teeming with “snow birds” and out-of-state students — none of whom can legally sign the petitions.
As this former Florida resident and university alumna well remembers, my classmates and I usually headed to the ski slopes in New England to escape the Spring Break hoards. Meanwhile besieged locals spent the month of March grumbling about alligator-gawking tourists causing gridlock on the roads and being lousy tippers.
Now they can also complain about putrid protest signs attempting to win support for banning abortion and family planning services.