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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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But it won’t be easy. Longworth, a self-described Tea Party leader, is aware of the bureaucracies standing in the way. And though he’s willing to support any legislation that will decrease the practice of abortion in the state of Florida, he isn’t willing to settle. Personhood Florida is encouraging churches to engage their flocks as a means of taking over the political process. A 17-point checklist for pastors is provided on the group’s overtly religious website. The first suggestion?

“Pray and fast.”

Not everybody in the pro-life movement is praying for personhood, though. Not even those who typically turn to prayer for answers. In 2009, the bishops representing the Florida Catholic Conference renounced the amendment, following the lead of similar nationwide right-to-life organizations – and noted conservative Phyllis Schlafly. The prevailing argument is that the amendments are “too vague” or not timely. Florida state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood – co-sponsor of the pro-life mandatory ultrasound bill last year, HB 1143 – 
sits somewhere precariously in the middle.

“I think that if [personhood] were in our constitution, that would probably tee up a question between the state and the federal government,” he says. “Whether that is the best way to ultimately overturn Roe v. Wade, there are a lot of people that don’t believe that’s the best strategy. I’m not knowledgeable enough to know that that’s the truth, but it does cause me pause that there are some groups that are all-in pro-life that have some concerns with it.”

Plakon points to more practical attempts at legislation – “slowly working around the margins,” he calls it – as more likely methods of addressing the abortion question. The Nebraska fetal-pain law passed last year, wherein abortions were prohibited after 20 weeks due to the potential for causing the fetus tangible pain, is something he’s considering. (The similar Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act was filed in Florida by state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, on Jan. 21.) A Georgia Senate bill that tried – and ultimately failed in the state House – to lump abortion procedures into existing discrimination laws has piqued his curiosity. If a white woman chose to abort her pregnancy because she knew the father was black, she would be turned away under the Georgia law. Plakon also plans to reintroduce the ultrasound bill, which would have required women to obtain an ultrasound before having an abortion; the bill was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010.

Though he says that the conservative state legislature will be focusing predominately on jobs and the economy, pro-life legislation will have its place on the docket. The personhood amendment doesn’t factor into that, he says, because it hasn’t yet gained the necessary traction.

“It really, quite honestly, becomes a distraction from jobs and the economy – and from the things that are doable right now and will make a meaningful difference,” Plakon says. “There are tangible results that can happen in Florida this year.”

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