Ultra-conservative religious activists have suffered another set back in their quest to legally define a fertilized egg as a person.
Personhood Nevada blasted the state Supreme Court for failing to rule ahead of a June 18 petition filing deadline on its appeal to place the conception ballot question before voters. In a stinging press release the absolutist anti-choice group referred to the justices as “tyrants.” The court fired back asking proponents why it should rule on a now moot point that failed to qualify for the ballot.
Local backers have been flummoxed since a legal challenge was mounted by the ACLU of Nevada and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Opponents argue that enacting zygote civil rights would ban abortion under any circumstances and place strict limits on all but barrier forms of contraception, stem cell research and in-vitro fertilization.
Carson City District Court Judge James T. Russell ruled Jan. 8 that the proposed 14-word language was too vague and lacked the required focus on a single subject.
Proponents vow they’ll be back in 2012.
But political watchers question the right-wing campaign strategy of not preemptively circulating petitions while the case was under appeal in order to meet the fast approaching ballot deadline.
It’s those missteps and others that cast doubt on the group’s political chops as it claims to be rallying support in 40 states.
The relative ease of citizen-backed ballot thresholds in Western states make the region an easy target for a whole host of activist-inspired electoral shenanigans.
Voters in Colorado rejected the first-in-the-nation personhood ballot by a 3-to-1 margin in 2008. A second attempt to make the 2010 ballot survived only following a mad dash to collect additional petition signatures after state electoral workers invalidated thousands of duplicate names and those contained on incorrectly notarized petitions. Voters will get a second crack Nov. 2 at defining a person as at “the beginning of biological development,” otherwise known as conception.
In Montana, activists are also launching a second attempt to make the ballot after securing only half the 49,000 signatures needed in a failed 2008 campaign.
Personhood Montana is once again led by Dr. Annie Bukacek, a Kalispell physician and conservative political lightning rod. While organizing the latest petition circulation effort, Bukacek has also battled Medicaid fraud charges following allegations she billed the government for praying with patients during examinations.
The Montana secretary of state is currently tallying ballot petitions. A preliminary signature count, updated daily on the state’s official election web site, is slowly trickling in. Final figures are expected within the next two weeks.
Arch-conservative states have also not been especially friendly territory for a Hail Mary attempt to ban abortion and contraception.
Missouri voters turned back a nascent personhood campaign which failed to collect enough signatures to make the ballot.
In Georgia, Iowa and Kansas where citizen-initiated amendments are prohibited, lawmakers did not yield to paleo-conservative lobbying and rejected bills to refer the measures to the voters.
However, Georgia Right-to-Life did successfully add a personhood straw poll to 45 partisan county primary ballots. Voters will be asked July 20 to express their preference for a constitutional amendment though the results have no legal bearing. Backers hope to use the results to again pressure Georgia lawmakers to place a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot.
In California, where conservative candidates slugged it out in contentious statewide GOP primaries, personhood advocates couldn’t pull out a win to push a “human rights amendment” masquerading as a personhood measure.
Yet, it’s a basic misreading of federal case law and state constitution rules that will likely cause the group’s undoing in Mississippi — the one conservative state that held the most promise for setting up a protracted challenge to abortion rights under Roe v Wade.
While personhood activists did meet state petition submission requirements, RH Reality Check discovered that a unique provision in the Mississippi constitution prohibits modifying its Bill of Rights by citizen initiative. The anti-choice movement frames the lack of zygote civil rights as akin to the Dred Scott citizenship decision which was later overruled by the 14th Amendment.
The petty insults directed at the Nevada court are also not likely a harbinger of good legal system karma either. A legal challenge to the Mississippi ballot question is expected.
Meanwhile, personhood petitions continue to be circulated in Alaska, Florida and Oregon.