HELENA - The Montana Pro Life Coalition on Wednesday submitted three proposed constitutional initiatives for the 2010 ballot defining embryos and fetuses as persons with rights, measures that if passed and upheld in courts would effectively ban abortion in Montana.

Each proposal would define a person as a human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human.

"The language of the personhood amendment proclaims what most people already know, which is that human life begins at conception and that all human beings are persons," Dr. Annie Bukacek, a Kalispell internist, told a rally of about 50 people on the Capitol steps.

Submitting the proposed ballot measures to state officials for review is the first step toward qualifying any of them for the 2010 ballot, which would require the gathering of more than 48,000 signatures of registered voters.

Bukacek said establishing the "personhood of the unborn" is pivotal to overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. The root of that decision was based on "the denial of personhood," she said.

Similar efforts on "personhood" initiatives are under way in Colorado, Oregon and Mississippi, with more states to follow later this year, backers said.

Amendment details

Opponents of abortion on Wednesday submitted to state officials three proposed constitutional amendments to define "person," to attempt to ban abortion.

Here is the wording of each proposal:

Proposal 1: "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."

Proposal 2: "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."

Proposal 3: "For

purposes of this

article, 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."

A similar ballot proposal fell nearly 20,000 signatures short of qualifying for the Montana ballot last year. Supporters said Wednesday that they are confident of succeeding this time because they're getting an earlier start and have a growing statewide organization to help gather signatures.

Abortion opponents also tried to get the Montana Legislature to place "personhood" constitutional amendments on the 2010 ballot, but they fell well short of getting the support of the required two-thirds of lawmakers.

Leaders of the group on Wednesday submitted three possible proposals to Secretary of State Linda McCulloch's office for review. Former state Rep. Rick Jore of Ronan, chairman of the Montana Constitution Party, said he wants the Legislative Services Division to see which one would best accomplish the group's goal.

Abortion rights supporters said Wednesday that none of the proposals is supported by a majority of Montanans.

"No matter which version comes forward, all of these are an attempt to totally ban abortion in Montana," said Allyson Hagen of NARAL Pro-Choice Montana. "They're out of the mainstream with Montana voters."

Once a proposed constitutional initiative clears a review by state agencies, backers have until June 2010 to get at least 48,674 signatures of registered Montana voters, including 10 percent of registered voters in 40 of the 100 state House districts.

The group had submitted an earlier initiative proposal but withdrew it so it could offer revised ones.

Jore said it's fitting that the proposed constitutional amendments are being submitted close to July 4, when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 and gave birth to this nation. He quoted the declaration's provision that citizens are entitled to certain inalienable rights, including "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

But since the 1973 Supreme Court decision, "there's a group of human beings that haven't had that recognition that protection of law for their life," Jore said. "That's unborn children."

Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, said 2,000 to 3,000 abortions are performed annually in Montana. The precise number for 2007 is 2,238, according to state statistics.

She said her biggest frustration as a legislator was in the inability to address this issue and stop abortions. Even if the Legislature did pass a measure to ban abortions, Montana's courts likely would strike it down, the legislator said.

"Why?" Warburton asked. "The courts have stretched the unique privacy provision of the Montana Constitution beyond all common sense in order to strike down the pro-life laws that elected representatives have passed over the years."

Passage of a personhood constitutional amendment would change that, she said.

NARAL Pro-Choice Montana's Hagen called the ballot measures proposals "a direct attack on our constitutional right to privacy and the ability of Montana families to make private medical decisions." She said abortion-rights advocates have blocked anti-abortion proposals from passing in the past five Montana legislative sessions.

"We have increased access to reproductive health care and secured state funding to Montana family planning clinics," Hagen said. "These are the kinds of things Montanans want us to focus on, preventing unwanted pregnancy in the first place."