The anti-abortion group Personhood Florida has come under fire for sponsoring an amendment that would outlaw abortion and, in some cases, birth control. But the head of the group, Pastor Bryan Longworth, argues that the amendment has been misconstrued by its detractors.
In October, Progress Florida sent out an email to supporters questioning the merits of Personhood Florida’s proposed “Personhood Amendment,” which seeks to extend constitutional rights to fetuses. In its email, Progress Florida called it a “radical amendment” that would “unleash Pandora’s box of cruel and unnecessary consequences for all of Florida’s families.”
The initiative received more flack when, in an interview with The Florida Independent, Planned Parenthood Florida’s executive director called it a product of “radical anti-choice extremists” that would not only ban abortion but most common forms of birth control as well.
Longworth says he realizes that the road from initiative to the amendment is a long-term process: “We are seeking 1 million signatures because we realize that some will likely be discounted. And we need 3.5 million people to vote on it, for it to pass. We aren’t backing down from the requirements and I appreciate the difficulty of the task ahead.”
Longworth says he first became involved with the “personhood” movement after seeing one of the cofounders of Personhood USA’s Facebook postings.
According to its website, Personhood USA’s mission is to ”serve Jesus by being an Advocate for those who can not speak for themselves, the pre-born child.” The group’s efforts to establish legal “personhood” have been thwarted in the past. In Colorado, a personhood initiative failed by a 3-1 margin. Similar initiatives have been proposed in other states, including Missouri and Georgia.
Now the head of Personhood Florida, Longworth also works as a pastor at Covenant Tabernacle in Port Saint Lucie, and blogs about political and abortion issues. In a Sept. 21 post, he listed Glenn Beck’s recommendations for political office, imploring readers to vote against “liberal candidates whose policies are destroying our cities, counties, states.”
Longworth, whose blog bio says he became a “full-time missionary to the pre-born” in 1990, has also blogged and preached about the destruction of the American family and the perils of single-parenthood:
In Genesis 2:18-24, we see that God created families to have one father and one mother however. Could it be that God knew what environment would best facilitate raising children? Could it be that children raised by both a father and a mother generally fare better than those raised by only the mother?
Longworth says his hope now is to get the personhood initiative on the 2012 ballot. But placement on the Florida ballot is not an easy task. It will require more than 676,000 valid signatures to make it, and according to the Florida elections website, the personhood amendment currently has zero.
Without signatures, the only hope for the amendment would be legislative help. Thus far, even representatives who have endorsed Personhood Florida in the past have expressed reservations about introducing the initiative to the legislature.
Longworth says that Personhood Florida isn’t looking for legislative help for the amendment: “That is definitely one route we could take, but at this point aren’t looking to go in that direction. We are, however, asking legislators to sponsor a Personhood Act, which wouldn’t carry the same weight as an Amendment, but would be helpful nonetheless.”
According to Longworth, Personhood Florida is currently relying on other methods to get the word out about their initiative. In addition to attending tea party rallies and pro-life events, he says the group is planning a big push in January to build support for the personhood cause.
“We are reaching out to pastors to give pro-life sermons at their churches around the date of Roe v. Wade and include information and petitions for the Personhood Amendment during these sermons,” Longworth says.
Longworth’s group also plans to march in a Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday parade. He claims that ”1,400 African-Americans are killed by abortion each day,” which, when added up, ”equals the number that suffered at the hands of the Klan.” This statistic appears on a number of anti-abortion websites, without a source.
In response to Planned Parenthood’s argument that this amendment has the potential to outlaw birth control, Longworth remains defensive: “Planned Parenthood has been telling us for years that birth control is not a form of abortion. Now, all of a sudden, they say that this amendment, which would outlaw abortion, would outlaw birth control. Planned Parenthood needs to come clean — does birth control kill children or not? [With this initiative,] certain forms of birth control that harm unborn children would be outlawed. But condoms, for instance, are barriers and have no abortive effect.”