by Peter Grady –
Despite suffering defeats at the ballot, the Personhood movement will completely change the pro-life landscape during this presidential election by forcing candidates to take a strong stand on the issue one way or the other.
The Personhood movement is an attempt to guarantee 14th Amendment protections to every human being regardless of their stage of development. The concept is based on the majority decision in Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion in America.
Justice Harry Blackmun, writing for the majority, said if a fetus were ever determined to be a person then the landmark case would collapse.
“If this suggestion of personhood is established,” Blackmun wrote, “[Jane Roe's] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the amendment.”
The Personhood movement is attempting to do just that, by attempting to get initiatives passed both at the state and federal level declaring an individual to be a person at any stage of development.
While no state has passed a personhood amendment yet, the issue continues to gain support. In Colorado, the first state to legalize abortion, the issue has already come before the voters twice and is on track to be on the ballot again in 2012.
Dennis Hoshiko, a local onion farmer who is very active in the pro-life and personhood movement, said he would like for Colorado to be the first state to pass a personhood amendment. “Abortion began in Colorado, and it would be great if it were to end here as well,” he said.
Personhood USA, which is dedicated to helping local groups pass personhood legislation through the initiative process, hosted a pro-life presidential forum focusing exclusively on the personhood issue. The group has also asked candidates to sign a personhood pledge.
The pledge states, “I stand with President Ronald Reagan in supporting ‘the unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception until natural death,’ and with the Republican Party platform in affirming that I ‘support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.’”
In the past, candidates have been able to adopt a moderate position by opposing abortion except in the case of incest, rape, or the health of the mother. The personhood pledge does not provide exception for rape or incest, believing that the innocent should not suffer because of the crimes of the father.
At this time, all of the Republican presidential candidates, with the exception of Governors Mitt Romney and John Huntsman have signed the pledge.
Ron Paul issued a clarifying statement with his signature, saying that while he strongly believes life begins at conception, and he supports a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution, the enforcement should be left to the states.
Elections are currently held based on this concept. While the Constitution specifies the frequency and types of national elections, it is up to each individual state to determine how they are conducted.
Tuesday evening, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich appeared at the Presidential Pro-Life Forum to answer questions on their commitment to human life.
Rick Perry was questioned about his change of position on rape or incest. Perry had gone on record as saying he believed in an exception for rape or incest, however, he signed the personhood pledge which allows no such exemption.
Perry said that the turning point for him was when he was confronted by Rebecca Kiessling, a rape survivor. Kiessling asked Perry why he would support the right for her mother to kill her. “Looking into her eyes, I couldn’t come up with an answer defending an exception for rape and incest.”
Bachmann said the life issue was a foundational issue for all of her other actions. “This is not a checked box for me, this is my core conviction that I would die for.”
Each candidate was asked what they would do if the Supreme Court struck down a personhood law. Santorum said he would fight the court over the issue. “With the partial birth abortion statute, when the court struck it down we wrote another bill and told them they were wrong. We eventually got the court to reverse itself.”
Gingrich said he would completely defund Planned Parenthood and use the savings to fund adoption services. He also said it would be possible to write the bill so it would not be appealable.
Advocates are hoping to get Personhood on the 2012 ballot in several states; including Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Ohio.
In Nevada, an attempt to place a personhood initiative on the ballot was thrown out by a judge. Carson City District Judge James Wilson said the language which states “the term ‘person’ includes every human being” was not clear to him.
Personhood advocates have gone to the initiative process because they feel the previous strategy of simply electing legislators to stop abortion has not been effective and that pro-life elected officials have been too compromised on the issue of life.
Hoshiko said the forum showed the power of the personhood movement. “Personhood was the sole topic at a forum involving presidential candidates. That has never happened before and we were able to achieve it in less than four years.”
Keith Mason, founder of Personhood USA, summed up the difference in this movement. “Being pro-life means we work for the rights of all humans and the pre-born child has rights like you or I.”
When asked why personhood was so important compared to past pro-life issues, Mason said, “The fundamental shift is we are not asking what we can get, we are saying what we want. We’re asking for it all. All humans are created in the image of God and endowed by their creator with rights. Our laws must reflect those rights.”