Womens Health

Montana Fails to Legally Define Fertilized Egg as a Person

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Ultra-conservative religious activists have suffered another set back in their quest to legally define a fertilized egg as a person. 

Personhood Montana collected only 10,413 ballot petition signatures—just 20 percent of the 49,000 needed to place the proposed constitutional amendment before voters.

It's the second failed attempt in two years to push the broad anti-choice language which opponents argue would ban abortion, all but barrier forms of contraception, embryonic stem cell research and in-vitro fertilization.

The group was once again led by a Kalispell physician Dr. Annie Bukacek, who has battled Medicaid fraud charges over the past year following allegations she billed the government for praying with patients during examinations

Contrary to typical conventional wisdom on repeat political campaigns the latest effort appears to be losing rather than gaining ground with the public.

In 2008, the Montana personhood initiative, known as CI-100, garnered 26,332 signatures. Still a significant shortfall from the required number to make the ballot but more than double the support received by this year's proposal.

Personhood USA claims the organization is rallying support in 40 states but the strength of the group's local political chops is coming into question.

The relative ease of citizen-backed ballot thresholds in Colorado and Montana make the two states easy targets for a whole host of activist-inspired electoral shenanigans.

Voters in Colorado rejected the first-in-the-nation personhood ballot by a 3-to-1 margin in 2008. A second attempt to make the 2010 ballot survived only following a mad dash to collect additional petition signatures after state electoral workers invalidated thousands of duplicate names and those contained on incorrectly notarized petitions. Voters will get a second crack Nov. 2 at defining a person as at "the beginning of biological development," otherwise known as conception.

In addition to Montana, voters have also turned back personhood petition campaigns this year in California, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas and Missouri. Iowa lawmakers rejected a bill to refer the constitutional amendment to the voters.

A Nevada district court judge halted local activists after ruling the 14-word personhood ballot language was too vague for voters to consider in response to a legal challenge by the ACLU of Nevada and Planned Parenthood. The group apparently decided not to tempt the legal fates by circulating petitions while the case is under an expedited appeal process. Instead, a Personhood USA press release blamed the Nevada Supreme Court for the local group missing its June 18 filing deadline referring to the justices as "tyrants."

Insulting the court while the case remains unresolved is not likely a harbinger of good legal system karma. Especially while another challenge looms in Mississippi.

While personhood activists met state petition submission requirements, RH Reality Check discovered that a unique provision in the Mississippi constitution prohibits modifying its Bill of Rights by citizen initiative. The anti-choice movement frames the lack of zygote civil rights as akin to the Dred Scott citizenship decision which was later overruled by the 14th Amendment. Yet, the elementary misreading of federal case law and the state's constitution caused the group's own undoing in the one conservative state that held the most promise for setting up a protracted challenge to abortion rights under Roe v Wade.

Personhood petitions continue to be circulated in Alaska, Florida and Oregon.

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