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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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With so much already at stake politically, Planned Parenthood is not taking the offense lightly. The wounds of the 2009 murder of abortion doctor George Tiller in Kansas at the hands of a pro-life extremist are still fresh in the minds of women’s health advocates, and choice proponents fear this trend to adopt personhood as a legitimate concept – underscored by increasingly virulent public rhetoric – is too big a threat to ignore.

Self-described missionary Keith Mason launched the national group Personhood USA in 2008 following a failed attempt in Colorado to pass a personhood amendment to the state constitution. The amendment would define life in all state statutes as the “beginning of biological development.” He says it’s a natural outgrowth of the sanctity-of-life movement that followed the Roe ruling – and that it’s right in line with attempts to pass a federal bill that President Ronald Reagan campaigned for in the 1980s that would have banned abortion. In a 1983 National Review op-ed, Reagan wrote, “I have closely followed and assisted efforts in Congress to reverse the tide of abortion – efforts of congressmen, senators and citizens responding to an urgent moral crisis. Regrettably, I have also seen the massive efforts of those who, under the banner of ‘freedom of choice,’ have so far blocked every effort to reverse nationwide abortion-on-demand.”

Mason, whose roots in the pro-life movement stretch back to 1996 (and who, according to the Personhood USA website, is “motivated by the second commandment to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ ”), is just picking 
up that torch.

“The fundamentals of what we’re trying to do is restore dignity to the preborn child,” he says. “So it’s the same intent as it was before, but now we’re focusing in on that term ‘personhood,’ which is what the [Roe] justices said was sort of the crux of it; they admitted it: that the preborn child was known as a human but not a person.”

More specifically, in the lengthy Roe opinion attached to the decision, Justice Harry Blackmun says the court struggled with the balance between a woman’s right to privacy and the prenatal rights of the unborn, concluding: “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.”

The personhood amendment supported by Mason and others defines a person as such: “The words ‘person’ and ‘natural person’ apply to all human beings, irrespective of age, race, health, function, condition of physical and/or mental dependency and/or disability, or method of reproduction, from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.”

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