Could the legislature push fetal personhood amendment onto ballots?

By | 11.29.10 | 2:44 pm

Personhood Florida cites the support of state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, on its website (Pic by Meredith Hill)

Recent reports of a proposed “personhood” amendment that would potentially outlaw all types of abortion, as well as birth control, may have raised eyebrows, but the amendment doesn’t seem to be making much popular headway thus far. And while state legislators do have the authority to overrule the signature-gathering process, whether they plan to do so remains an open question.

According to the Florida Division of Elections, the initiative aims to define “all human beings as persons under the constitution regardless of age, race, health function, condition of physical and/or mental dependency and/or disability.”

Though it is sponsored by Personhood Florida, the state arm of a national pro-life group that has attempted several variations of the amendment in other states, the initiative currently has zero valid signatures. More than 676,000 are required for placement on the ballot.

But even if the amendment lacks the required signatures, the legislature has the power to add the initiative to the ballot in the spring. Whether or not state legislators will do so remains unanswered.

“Honestly, I don’t believe that [the amendment] has any traction,” says state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, who has been vocal about his support for pro-life legislation in the past. “I haven’t heard much about it and I seriously doubt the legislature would add this. We’re focused on other things right now, specifically: jobs and the economy.”

Though Plakon’s website says that he will “unequivocally support any legislation created for the protection of all human life,” the legislator says that any forthcoming pro-life legislation would focus on reasonable restrictions to abortion.

“The reality is, Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, so we need to focus on limitations to abortions, such as revisiting the ultrasound bill,” Plakon says. “I think it’s important that we stay around the edges of the [abortion] issue, and I am personally hopeful that Gov. Scott will sign that bill.”

In response to Progress Florida’s announcement of a letter-writing campaign to Gov.-elect Rick Scott, demanding that he make known his stance on the initiative, Plakon says that the amendment is “citizen-led” and not reliant on Scott’s support or opposition.

One Florida representative who has aligned himself with the personhood movement in the past is Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, the former executive director of Florida’s Christian Coalition. Personhood Florida cites Baxley as a supporter of the group, quoting him on its website:

PersonhoodFL is a valuable ally for the unborn children who are aborted each year in our nation at an alarming rate. Sadly, Florida has one of the highest per capita abortion rates, ranking eighth among the 50 states. As the saying goes: ‘He who asks the questions wins the debate.’ We want to ask a question of every Floridian on the November ballot, in effect: ‘Do you believe that life begins at conception and that the unborn child is a person with human rights?’ In our struggle to protect the lives of the innocent, we need to press the issue of when life begins, to get people thinking about it; debating it with their family, friends and colleagues; and ultimately supporting the Personhood of the unborn child at the polls in November.

Messages left at Baxley’s capitol office were not returned. A call to the main line of the Florida House of Representatives turned up an address for his district office, but no phone number.

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