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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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“Well, there’s a debate on that I think,” says Mason, somewhat dubiously. “I think we could get to the bottom of it very quickly.”

Pastor Bryan Longworth of Port St. Lucie is leading the charge for Personhood Florida; the group formed in September 2009 and failed to obtain enough signatures to get its amendment to appear on the 2010 ballot. As of press time, Personhood Florida has yet to present any petitions to the Florida Division of Elections for the 2012 ballot. Naturally, Longworth views the apparent setback as a “challenge.”

“We’re just starting on it,” he says. “We view every step of the way as a part of the challenge, as a part of educating the population. And we believe that this is the next logical step in the civil rights movement: ending abortion.”

That’s not the only rhetorical and historical touchstone utilized in the personhood movement. The Personhood Florida website boasts a YouTube video comparing abortion to the ills of slavery. Over the tune of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a voice (presumably Longworth’s) says, “It took nearly 100 more years and a civil war to rid our nation of the scourge of slavery. Today, over 1.2 million preborn children are killed in America by abortion.” Supporters of the Colorado initiative ironically co-opted the message of the South Dakota women’s suffrage movement after losing their latest battle. They issued a statement in November reading, “From 1890 to 1918, women in South Dakota attempted many times to gain the right to vote. Their constitutional amendments failed to pass six times before they succeeded.”

“One of the things is that they didn’t give up!” Longworth says, likewise invoking South Dakota history. “They continued. They weren’t successful at first. They continued and they kept fighting and kept fighting until they won, and that’s what we’re doing.”

In the short term, Personhood Florida hopes to come up with 10 percent of the required 676,811 signatures to land its amendment initiative on the state’s 2012 ballot for voter consideration; those petitions will then be reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court. If approved, Longworth says, the movement will take on a new life.

“There are a lot of conservatives hanging in the wings,” he says. “And when they see us actually doing something, they’re going to want to be involved in it as well. They’re good people; they fought for the [anti-gay] marriage amendment here in Florida.”

Ultimately, the lofty goal is to get 38 states on board and prompt a federal personhood amendment into the U.S. Constitution, and in the process, present a valid legal challenge to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Last year, the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, the outspoken legal arm of the local conservative right, successfully defeated an ACLU and Planned Parenthood challenge to Personhood Mississippi’s ballot initiative on state constitutional grounds. (It will be on the ballot this year.) Longworth says that the Liberty Counsel is the acting attorney for Personhood Florida, as well, and “chomping at the bit” to be the law firm that challenges Roe.

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