National ‘Personhood’ Backers Barnstorm Montana With One Big Exception

Wendy Norris

Three major players in the absolutist anti-choice movement headed to Montana last weekend to push a second attempt at a state ballot measure to ban abortion without exception. But the meeting excluded one noteworthy group.

Three major players in the absolutist anti-choice movement
headed to Big Sky Country last weekend to push a second attempt at a state ballot
measure to ban abortion without exception. But the confab is also as noteworthy
for the obvious absence of a prominent group in the egg-as-a-person campaign.

The so-called "personhood" law is the latest
gimmick by anti-abortion activists to overturn Roe v Wade by focusing on zygotes’ due process and equal protection
rights under the 14th Amendment. This time, however, advocates are tweaking the
ballot language and dropping the controversial "life begins at
conception" argument for the more amorphous "at the beginning of
biological development" in order to rally for fertilized eggs, clones and
in-vitro embryos.

What the anti-choice groups may lack in serious
constitutional law scholarship they make up for with sophisticated
charitable fund raising campaigns to fuel state initiatives
and a nationwide
barnstorming tour to build local support for what its own proponents admit is a
last ditch effort to outlaw abortion and curb comprehensive reproductive
care according to fundamentalist Christian religious beliefs.

The biggest national driver in the state-led battles is the
ultra-conservative Catholic anti-choice group, American Life League, a group
that long-split with National Right to Life over what the more radicalized ALL
and its allies considered was taking a too timid approach to federal
legislation to ban abortion.

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Schisms within the anti-choice movement are fairly typical
and have spawned a series of like-named organizations tromping on well-worn
political territory and jostling for the attention of like-minded donors.

And there are hints that the Montana conference could be an
early sign of the latest breach in the high stakes game of anti-abortion

Personhood USA is conspicuously absent from the three-city
Oct. 16-18 tour hosted by the Montana Pro-Life Coalition, the primary sponsor
of CI-102, the official name of the state’s personhood constitutional

The Denver-based group was founded this year from the ashes
of Colorado’s first-in-the-nation personhood ballot measure that went to state
voters. Though the 2008 initiative was thoroughly drubbed by a 73-27 margin,
the Colorado supporters recast themselves as a national organization to
ostensibly lead dozens of state efforts in 2010 and beyond.

The Montana group’s first attempt to reach the 2008 ballot
failed after collecting less than two-thirds of the 48,000 petition signatures
needed. Which makes the Personhood USA snub even more curious since its
founders were actively involved in the Colorado petition process and exceeded
the state’s signature threshold by 70 percent.

Organizers with Personhood USA couldn’t be reached for

But then again how does one compete for face time in a state
with a high number of Catholics
when Montana confab headliner and ALL
president Judie Brown is billed as "an adviser to the Pope himself."

Though it’s unclear whether ALL’s "Bury Obamacare with
Kennedy" signs and its campaign to derail health care reform will affect
future Papal audiences after American Catholic groups denounced the effort as
"failing the most basic test of human decency" and the Vatican
had publicly expressed support for the president’s initiative.

Joining Brown on the personhood stump through Great Falls,
Missoula and Helena are two African-American anti-abortion activists who have
repeatedly referred to abortion as a "black genocide." Rev. Walter
Hoye from Oakland, Calif., who is sponsoring the personhood initiative in
California, and Dallas-based Pastor Steven Broden are steeped in the
confrontational clinic protest tactics first initiated by ALL in the 1980s.

What’s a bit harder to bridge in the personhood confab
strategy is the simple truth that Montana’s political culture is world’s apart
from urban centers, like Oakland and Dallas. The entirety of Montana’s black
community consists of 6,200 people, or less than one percent of the entire
state population. While residents are nearly evenly divided between urban
centers and rural communities they are singularly united by a uniquely Western
pseudo-libertarian "stay out of my business" perspective on all
things political.

And that voter sentiment, and emerging 2010 ballot
opposition strategy, was clearly noted by Allyson Hagen, executive director of
NARAL Pro-Choice Montana.

"We will not allow extremist organizations to use our
state constitution to play games with women’s health," said Hagen.
"These groups are not interested in the real-world implications that
eliminating our privacy rights and restricting access to abortion care and
birth control will have on the health and safety of the women in our

Yet, the state is likely to remain as one of the more
fertile epicenters of the anti-choice movement with a coterie of
paleo-conservative state lawmakers pushing multiple legislative bans on
abortion, an unencumbered citizen initiative process that mainlines radical
ideas onto the ballot and a relatively inexpensive media market to campaign

Just the kind of out of the way place for religious
political activists to go barnstorming on a states’ rights cram session
to find the mythical silver bullet to repeal women’s reproductive rights.

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