Right to Life of Montana, the Montana Family Foundation and the Montana Catholic Conference will not support the campaign to get a so-called “personhood” amendment on the 2010 ballot.

Officials for all three groups told me that they want to ban abortion, but that the strategy put forth by the pro-“personhood” crowd could have disastrous consequences for their cause.

The Montana ProLife Coalition, headed by Kalispell physician Annie Bukacek, launched the “personhood” campaign on Wednesday. Their goal is to change the Montana Constitution by adding a section to Article II that would read something like this:

“With respect to the fundamental and inalienable right to life, the word ‘person’ as used in sections 4, 15, 16 and 17 of this article, applies to all human beings, irrespective of age, health, function, physical and/or mental dependency or method of reproduction, from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.”

The primary motivation behind the proposed amendment is the hope that if it becomes law that it would trigger a direct legal challenge Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S.

Bukacek said as much at Wednesday’s press conference at the capitol:

“The root of legalization of abortion is the denial of personhood. Justice Blackmun who wrote the majority decision in Roe v. Wade himself said that if the personhood of the unborn was established, then their right to life is guaranteed specifically by the 14th Amendment. That is why we say the personhood of the unborn is pivotal to overturning Roe v. Wade and why Montana ProLife Coalition chooses personhood as our primary legal strategy to end abortion.”

Most Montana anti-abortion groups don’t support that strategy. Some anti-abortion legal scholars and officials for the three aforementioned pro-life groups say a “personhood” amendment could have several unintended consequences for their movement.

Moe Wosepka, executive director of the Montana Catholic Conference, had this to say:

“…this could very possibly strengthen Roe v. Wade, which would weaken pro-life efforts. We don’t want to take that chance.”

This from Gregg Trude, executive director of Right to Life of Montana:

“The people at Montana ProLife Coalition, bless their hearts, they are trying to do this process and they don’t understand the ramifications behind what could happen if it got through, and it’s very frustrating.”

So what are those ramifications?

James Bopp Jr., an attorney for National Right to Life who has argued abortion cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, laid them out in a 2007 memo:

“…now is not the time to pass state constitutional amendments or bills banning abortion because (1) such provisions will be quickly struck down by a federal district court, (2) that decision will be affirmed by an appellate court, (3) the Supreme Court will not grant review of the decision, and (4) the pro-abortion attorneys who brought the legal challenge will collect statutory attorneys fees from the state that enacted the provision in the amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Montana ProLife Coalition board member and former state legislator Rick Jore says Bopp’s concerns are hogwash. In an interview for my story in Sunday’s Tribune, Jore said:

“Our concern is that for too long, because we’ve simply shied away from direct challenge of the premise of our opponents, that we’ve compromised ourselves by saying we’re going to save some babies but abort the rest,” Jore said. “In my view, by taking that position, we’ve too often compromised our credibility. It has compromised our underlying premise, which is that all unborn from the time of conception are human beings that deserve the protection of law.”

Travis McAdam of the Montana Human Rights Network, characterized Montana ProLife Coalition this way:

“What’s interesting about the group that’s pushing and sponsoring this proposed constitutional amendment is that it really is the fringe of the anti-choice crowd. It’s people who looked at Right to Life Montana and said, they’re not active enough, not doing enough, not quite extreme enough.”

You can read the full story in Sunday’s Tribune.

John Adams began his professional career in 2001 in Idaho Falls, ID writing and editing for a variety of trade magazines. He covered topics ranging from potato and sugar beet farming to skate park and playground construction and maintenance. Adams started his newspaper career as the city government reporter for the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, WI where he covered the City Hall, police, fire and local courthouse beats. In 2005 he joined the staff of the Missoula Independent in Missoula, MT where he worked as a staff reporter covering a wide range of issues including the environment,...

6 replies on “Anti-abortion groups split on “personhood” amendment”

  1. I agree with Jore. The Montana organizations who oppose a state Personhood Amendment are just re-stating the positions of the older, more established national Pro-Life Organizations. If they researched it themselves, closely they may change their mind. There has been a split in the Pro-Life Movement, one side, the older established organizations who've had decades to end abortion, but failed, and they want decades more to continue strategies that have yet to even put a dent in Roe.

    Oddly enough, these same organizations once promoted a Federal Human Life Amendment (aka Personhood Amendment) because the knew it would resoundingly overturn Roe v. Wad. But getting it passed thru Congress was an impossible task and they dropped it.

    A state Personhood Amendment has never been enacted and the first one was only introduced in 2005. From the very beginning, The Original Pro-Life Strategy has always been a Personhood Amendment. (see http://www.PersonhoodAmendments.com/strategy) Enacting a state Personhood Amendment will also oveturn Roe.

    Personhood is a new and rapidly growing movement within the Pro-Life Community that seeks to establish a legal definition of a person that includes unborn children, thus making killing an unborn child a crime punishable under existing murder laws.

    For more details I recommend:

    Pro-Life Dave

  2. Go Montana go! It's about time people had the guts to speak the truth. The other pro-life groups are saying that this may have unintended consequences. In their case, however, the unintended consequence is ending abortion. Montana, the grass roots are behind you 100%!

  3. Except… a fetus is not a person, and all reasonable people recognize that fact.

    So no 'personhood amendment' will ever be passed by a vote of the people. Because the majority of people are reasonable.

  4. That rather exclusive perspective should go a long way toward getting a rather sheepish following, eh, john?
    Horst Schloft

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