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Planned personhood

The pro-life movement’s newest attack on reproductive rights raises its profile in Florida

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It’s business as usual at Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando. On the Wednesday before Christmas, the women’s health clinic, just south of the Citrus Bowl on Tampa Avenue, is deceptively quiet for a battleground. Outside, there’s little activity save for the muted shuffle of about 10 pro-life activists making their way up and down the sidewalk. They clutch graphic anti-abortion pamphlets reading “We’re here for you … You are not alone,” and placards declaring that abortion “hurts the father, too.” The silent ritual only breaks when a potential Planned Parenthood client steps up to the entrance; crossing the sidewalk and approaching the clinic or its patrons is 
strictly forbidden.

“Change your mind!” heckles one protester. “We’ll help you!”

Once inside, though, the mood is decidedly more serene, at least on the surface. The waiting room quickly fills with fidgeting couples, girls in trouble and their friends. They are silent. But there are signs that the clinic is on the defense: The glass at the front window is bullet-resistant and the clinic’s four physicians each pack a gun and protective vests. The staff has endured anthrax scares and stalking incidents. Behind the bulletproof reception window, two women operate the call center with seasoned aplomb: no thongs on the day of procedure, it’s OK to take your medication with food, those asking too many general questions (most serious calls involve a sense of urgency) are typically pro-lifers trying to clog the system. They receive 12,000 calls a month.

“A lot of people will hang up because they won’t even say the word ‘abortion,’” one says, adding “Nothing surprises me anymore.”

Increasingly conservative legislatures across the country have been hammering away at reproductive rights since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision (which celebrates its 38th anniversary this month), but those strikes have been on Planned Parenthood’s radar for decades. Of greater concern to the pro-choice movement, even if only in theory for now, is the recent upsurge in new citizen-led movements across the country to circumnavigate the standard political rhetoric with Tea-Party-esque (and shamelessly religious) attempts to write “personhood” into state constitutions via petition initiatives.

If these activists get their way, a woman’s fetus could be granted the same rights – if not more rights – than are given American women, Planned Parenthood argues. Killing a fetus intentionally would be tantamount to murder, while other statutes that include the term “person” would have to be reconsidered. Meanwhile, issues such as in vitro fertilization, stem-cell research and access to reproductive health services for women could be thrown out the window. This year, personhood will appear on the Mississippi ballot. Next year, supporters of the initiative hope, Florida will follow suit, though the movement has been languishing here since 2009.

Even if the personhood movement has yet to register any significant successes, its supporters – including those in Florida – are filtering their grassroots message through churches and the Internet, hoping to override the government’s slower methods and ultimately to undermine the Roe ruling by the people’s will. Pro-life advocates have waited in the wings long enough; it’s time to take matters in their own hands. If nothing else, it represents a shift in the pro-life argument away from regulatory strategy and into mob-rule mentality.

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