The head of anti-abortion group Personhood Florida says that his group is continuing its push for an amendment on the state’s 2014 ballot, despite receiving little help from state legislators or pro-life groups.
Personhood Florida began a two-year push in January, hoping to gather enough signatures for placement of a “fetal personhood” bill on the state’s 2014 ballot. Like other personhood initiatives, the bill would define life from the moment of conception.
The group’s last attempts were unsuccessful, due to a lack of signatures and no solid legislative support.
Personhood Florida needs 676,811 valid petitions for ballot access. Once it has collected ten percent of that number (or 67,681 valid petitions), the Personhood Amendment will go to the Supreme Court of Florida for approval for ballot access.
The group is currently working toward gathering that first ten percent of signatures. According to Pastor Bryan Longworth, head of Personhood Florida, supporters contacted over 12,000 churches across the state in the month of January alone.
The group will also soon unveil an “automated, direct-mail, robo-call type of campaign to reach out to people we believe are pro-life and give them an opportunity to sign the petition,” says Longworth. That campaign is set to start within the next month.
Personhood Florida’s last attempt at a ballot initiative proved unpopular even amongst anti-abortion legislators and organizations, many of which deemed it too extreme. Most groups, instead, lent their support to bills like the one requiring all abortion-seeking women to undergo ultrasounds. But, with similar initiatives cropping up across the country, the personhood movement is growing ever-popular.
In January, the group received a glowing endorsement from the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, who called the personhood initiative “a reflection of a growing pro-life sentiment across the country.”
A personhood measure in Mississippi received a considerable amount of support and media attention. Though the amendment ultimately failed on the state’s November 2011 ballot, the attention it received has been a boon to other personhood affiliates.
“There has definitely been a big change,” says Longworth. “We have probably quadrupled the number of volunteers we have in the state right now. We have volunteers actively calling pro-lifers, churches, collecting signatures…that has all come about as a result of the publicity surrounding Mississippi. Even though it wasn’t successful, it still had a tremendous role in raising awareness of Personhood.”
According to Longworth, Personhood Florida currently has representatives and volunteers in every region of the state.
Similar personhood measures have been making waves in both Oklahoma and Virginia. Unlike the Mississippi amendment, however, the Virginia bill attempts to change abortion rights through the state’s legal code. The Virginia bill, which is sponsored by Republican Delegate Bob Marshall, would define the word “personhood” in the Code of Virginia as beginning at the moment of fertilization.
Though the Virginia bill passed its state house earlier this month, Personhood Florida still plans to introduce an anti-abortion amendment, rather than attempt to change the state’s legal code.
“We have considered [what Virginia did], but the main thrust is an amendment,” says Longworth. “One thing that’s great about Florida is that citizens can actually have an amendment. In some states, it’s more advantageous to just go with a bill.”
Longworth says his group would still like legislative support, which would likely lend more strength (and popularity) to its initiative.
“We have continually been seeking legislators that would be willing to put forth personhood-compliant bills,” says Longworth, adding that one bill, sponsored by Rep. Van Zant, “is similar, but it’s not 100 percent identical.”
Longworth says his group will continue reaching out to state legislators, in the hopes that they will receive an endorsement.
Personhood Florida also has plans to present candidates for state office with a Personhood pledge, similar to the one presented to GOP Presidential candidates by Personhood USA.
Personhood USA has also hosted several personhood forums in recent months, in which candidates were asked specifically about their stances on abortion issues. Longworth says the Florida affiliate will likely do something similar, with Senate candidates.
“Just like slavery, which is virtually abolished throughout the globe,” says Longworth, “we beleive there will be a day where that will be true for abortion, as well.”
Though personhood supporters say their aim is only to outlaw abortion, critics of the initiatives say that “fetal personhood” amendments could ban some types of birth control and have a negative effect on in-vitro fertilization procedures and even cancer research.