At a Saturday convention in Billings, state representatives and members of the Montana ProLife Coalition voiced their support for a proposed amendment to the Montana constitution that could end in-state abortions by defining human life as beginning with the fertilization of an egg.

The event, called the Billings Personhood Convention and held at the Mount Olive Lutheran Church, was organized in part to gather signatures in support of Constitutional Initiative 102, called CI-102. The state requires the signatures of about 49,000 registered Montana voters to get the proposal onto the November 2010 ballot.

"It's unquestioned that human life begins at conception," said Dr. Annie Bukacek, president of the Montana ProLife Coalition.

The Montana Constitution says that "no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law" and CI-102 would "define ‘person' to include every human being from the beginning of the human being's biological development," according to the Secretary of State's Web site.

The morning presentation featured music, slideshows and talks from Reps. David Howard of Park City and Cary Smith of Billings and drew a crowd of about 50 people. Much of Howard's speech focused on what he called a "culture war" in America that includes abortion.

"Everything you hold dear is at stake," he told the crowd. "We have to wake up America."

Smith said it's important for others to become educated on the issue in case the proposed amendment makes it onto the ballot later this year.

"I don't think I have to convince anybody in this room that abortion's a bad idea," he said.

Bukacek, a physician who lives in Big Fork, said the meeting was also designed to dispel what she said is misinformation and misleading verbiage from the pro-choice side of the argument.

"Most pro-choice advocates don't know what they're supporting," she said.

Officials from Planned Parenthood of Montana and NARAL Pro-Choice Montana were quick to dispute the statement and speak out against CI-102, saying it could have negative impacts on medical decisions for women and girls of reproductive age if passed.

"I think people who are pro-choice understand that they believe in individual autonomy," said Stacey Anderson, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Montana. "It's a basic human rights issue."

A better option, said Allyson Hagen, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Montana, is attempting to reduce unintended pregnancies through improved health care, education and resources.

"It's about supporting women's ability to make private reproductive health care decisions," she said. "The basic question goes down to who decides who gets to make these medical decisions. Do you believe that the government or a legislature or somebody else should be making these decisions?"

Legislative efforts similar to CI-102 failed in Montana in 2007 and 2009 and another initiative in 2008 fell about 18,000 votes short of making the ballot.

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