Personhood battle moves into courtroom

By WND Staff

The battle over constitutional amendments across dozens of states that could sink the abortion industry by establishing constitutional rights for the unborn is heating up months in advance of the November elections with a detour into a Mississippi courtroom

WND has reported how the move is exploding among pro-life activists and that as many as 32 states are expected to address some sort of “personhood” vote this year – whether through a constitutional amendment or law.

Now a lawsuit has been filed in Mississippi over regulations limiting the amount of time that petition signature collectors have to gather names.

The suit was filed by Liberty Counsel on behalf of Personhood Mississippi, an organization supporting Initiative No. 26, proposed for the fall election ballot.

The group already has gathered more than 85,000 signatures in support of a state constitutional amendment to include the unborn in the definition of a person.

But Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a defendant along with Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, has interpreted the state’s law to shorten the time frame in which the signatures can be gathered.

The state constitution and Mississippi law give individuals a full year to gather signatures, and estimates are that 89,285 valid names are needed this year to place the amendment on the ballot.

That one-year periods ends Saturday.

But the law “also provides that the deadline for filing the petition with the secretary of state is 90 days before the start of the next legislative session. Thus, Personhood Mississippi should have until October 2010 to file its petition,” the lawsuit argues.

Hood arbitrarily shortened the filing deadline “thereby forcing the petitioners to rush to persuade the clerks to hasten their certification and inevitably causing hundreds of valid signatures to be left out of the final count,” the claim states.

“This strained interpretation of the law may cause Personhood Mississippi to fall short of the required number of signatures and prevent the measure from being on the ballot. It will undoubtedly result in many voters being denied the right to have their voices heard on the crucial issue of protection of the lives of innocent unborn children,” it said.

“It is unfortunate that the attorney general has chosen to usurp the role of the legislature and rewrite the deadline for filing petitions to amend the state constitution,” said Steve Crampton, vice president of legal affairs for Liberty Counsel.

“His actions have violated the constitutional rights of Personhood Mississippi and untold hundreds of Mississippi citizens whose voices will not be heard, much as the silent screams of the unborn that this effort seeks to protect have gone unheard for so many years.”

The civil rights case explains that the signature-gathering activities “constitute core political speech protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.”

WND previously has reported the effort ultimately could be the key to nullifying the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court ruling from 1973 in which justices discovered a right to abortion in the Constitution.

Gualberto Garcia Jones is director of Personhood Colorado and a legal analyst for Personhood USA, a grass-roots Christian organization that seeks to legally define every unborn baby as a “person” protected by God-given and constitutionally protected rights, including the right to life.

“We’re trying to end abortion right now,” Garcia Jones told WND. “All of our laws that we’re promoting are direct challenges to Roe v. Wade. If we can get a challenge up to the Supreme Court, then that’s the ideal thing. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

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.

Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in the majority opinion for Roe v. Wade, “The appellee and certain amici [pro-lifers] argue that the fetus is a ‘person’ within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. In support of this, they outline at length and in detail the well-known facts of fetal development. If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment.”

According to the movement, if every unborn baby is defined as a person, each baby will be legally guaranteed the same right to life as all Americans.

“We believe – and a lot of the justices on the Supreme Court agree with us – that there is no right to privacy that would allow abortion,” Garcia Jones said. “Since it’s not mentioned directly in the 14th Amendment, we could use the 10th Amendment and the states’ rights to police themselves and to pass laws regulating morality and health and safety to regulate abortion so it’s not permitted. Basically it would be treated the same way as a homicide, where a state can regulate how they punish it and how they try to prevent it, but they could never allow it.”

He continued, “We believe respect for life is in the Constitution, so therefore a state could never say you can kill a person.”

He said citizens in 32 states are now seeking sponsors to put personhood statutes or constitutional amendments on 2010 ballots.

“It’s taken off so much that we’re having trouble keeping up with it,” he said. “Colorado, Montana, Missouri, Mississippi and California are all in the process of getting signatures.”

The Los Angeles Times reported Sept. 28 that while personhood measures failed in Montana and North Dakota legislatures last year, “the close votes alarmed supporters of legal abortion.”

According to WND columnist Jill Stanek, pro-life legislators in Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana and Texas have also signaled their intent to introduce personhood statutes.

Personhood USA co-founder Keith Mason told WND
The grass-roots personhood movement is “exploding.”

The Personhood USA website lists states involved in the personhood movement and allows citizens to register with groups in their respective states.