Legislative bodies in two states voted this month to define the beginning of human life – and human rights – at conception.
On Feb. 17, North Dakota’s House of Representatives voted 51-41 to approve a bill that declares “any organism with the genome of homo sapiens” – even one not yet born – is a person protected by rights under the state’s constitution.
Yesterday, the Montana Senate voted 26-24 to approve S. 406, a constitutional Personhood Amendment that states, “All persons are born free and have certain inalienable rights. … Person means a human being at all stages of human development of life, including the state of fertilization or conception, regardless of age, health, level of functioning or condition of dependency.”
Both bills, which have major implications for abortion should the states grant unborn babies the full status of “persons” under the law, now await approval by their respective opposite legislative houses: the North Dakota Senate and the Montana House of Representatives.
Should S. 406 pass in Montana’s Legislature, it would then be sent to the voters of the state, who with a simple majority could make it part of the state’s constitution.
Keith Mason is founder of PersonhoodUSA, a grass-roots Christian organization founded to establish legal protection of rights for every pre-born child.
“This is groundbreaking stuff for us in the pro-life movement,” said Mason, praising the Montana Senate’s vote as “a giant step forward in historic efforts to ensure the rights and protection of every individual.”
The personhood approach within the pro-life movement was sparked by a statement in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that opened the doors for legal abortion in the U.S.
In Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote, “[If the] suggestion of personhood [of the fetus] is established, the case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment.”
Advocates of personhood legislation aim to follow Blackmun’s reasoning by legally establishing that an unborn child is a full “person,” therefore guaranteeing the baby’s right to life.
“The language, in fact – basically in laymen’s terms – just says that all humans are people,” says Mason.
State Rep. Dan Ruby, the North Dakota Republican who sponsored his state’s bill, told the Bismarck Tribune, “I think North Dakota will be on the map to be the first state in recent years to mount a legitimate challenge to Roe v. Wade.”
Similar efforts to establish personhood of pre-born babies have been attempted or are under way in other states, including Mississippi, Oregon, Alabama, Maryland, South Carolina and Colorado, where a personhood amendment was soundly defeated in November.
According to a PersonhoodUSA statement, however, “The race is on between Montana and North Dakota for the first personhood legislation in our nation’s history, as Montana’s Personhood Amendment continues on to its House of Representatives, and North Dakota’s personhood legislation continues on to its Senate.”
Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, whose jurisdiction includes North and South Dakota, doesn’t see her neighbor state as winning the race.
“[North Dakota's] H.B. 1572 is dangerous, far-reaching and allows the government, not women and families, to make critical decisions about health care,” Stoesz told the Washington Times. “This bill is not representative of the majority of North Dakotans; it is merely another attempt by a narrow minority fixated on an agenda that most Americans simply don’t support.”
Mason, however, isn’t dissuaded by threats of defeat in his organization’s novel approach to combating abortion.
“If you look at pro-life victories like partial birth, we didn’t win the first time around,” Mason told the Times. “Pro-abortion activists have changed some of their tactics, which means we need to change ours.”