Backers of Montana 'personhood' proposal undeterred by Mississippi vote

2011-11-09T18:00:00Z 2011-11-21T11:43:17Z Backers of Montana 'personhood' proposal undeterred by Mississippi voteBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
November 09, 2011 6:00 pm  • 

HELENA — Undeterred by Mississippi's rejection of an anti-abortion measure this week, the sponsor of a similar 2012 Montana "personhood" proposal said Wednesday she will continue to work to get it on the ballot.

Mississippi voters, by 58 percent to 42 percent, on Tuesday defeated a proposed "personhood" proposal that would have amended the state's constitution to ban abortion and, opponents said, prohibited some forms of birth control.

"I'm not a person that gets discouraged, ever, and I don't grow weary," said Annie Bukacek, a Kalispell physician. "Until someone comes up with a better way to provide equal protection under the law to every human being, I'm sticking with the personhood approach."

Meanwhile, the spokeswoman for a leading Montana abortion-rights group praised the Mississippi vote and said the group is gearing up to defeat a similar measure here if it makes the ballot.

"After winning yesterday in conservative Mississippi in an off-year election, we believe the so-called personhood initiatives and similarly dangerous initiatives threatened in Montana are even more likely to be defeated," said Stacey Anderson, public affairs director of Planned Parenthood of Montana.

The defeated Mississippi amendment defined life "to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."

In Montana, Bukacek's proposed 2012 constitutional initiative would say that "person" in that part of the document "applies to all human beings at every stage of development, including the stage of fertilization or conception, regardless of age, health, level of functioning, or condition of dependency."

She said the language proposed in Montana differs somewhat from what was on the ballot in Mississippi, but "it is similar in that it declares personhood for the unborn."

Anderson said the difference between the proposals in the two states "is really a technicality, but the intent is the same, and that's to establish personhood in the constitution and make a fertilized egg have the same constitutional rights as a woman."

Backers of the proposed "personhood" constitutional amendment have failed to muster the necessary votes in the 2007, 2009 and 2011 legislative sessions to put it on the ballot.

Bukacek and others have mounted initiative efforts but failed to gather enough signatures to put a "personhood" constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2008 and 2010.

This year, Bukacek submitted one constitutional initiative on May 2 but later withdrew it.

She dropped in a similar measure, CI-108, on July 14. It was approved for signature gathering on Oct. 18.

Qualifying a constitutional initiative for the ballot requires the signatures of 10 percent of the total voters in the state -- or 48,674 -- including those of 10 percent of the voters in each of 40 of the 100 state House districts.

Anderson said CI-108 opponents haven't seen much signature-gathering activity so far, but are gearing up to fight it anyway as being "too far-reaching for Montanans."

Another abortion measure that is guaranteed a spot on the ballot is Legislative Referendum 120, which requires parents to be notified before a minor daughter gets an abortion.

That measure was put directly on the ballot by the 2011 Legislature as a referendum, which doesn't go to the governor to sign into law or veto.

A district judge struck down a similar parental notification measure as unconstitutional in 1999, saying it violated several Montana's constructional rights — privacy, equal protection and the rights of minors.

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