Responding to a story by The Florida Independent in which Personhood Florida leader Bryan Longworth accused many opponents of his “fetal personhood” measure of “taking their own child’s life,” both anti-abortion and pro-choice groups are firing back, calling Longworth’s words ”jaw-dropping,” a “bad assumption” and “beyond the pale.”
In our interview, Longworth said his group was far from discouraged by the lack of support from powerful anti-abortion groups like the Florida Catholic Conference and the Florida Family Policy Council, both of whom agree that a fetal personhood initiative is unlikely to win broad support.
Longworth said he was confident that both groups will eventually grow supportive of his initiative, and boasted that Personhood Florida, today a small grassroots organization, will one day rival its detractors.
“When we get the signatures, they’ll see that we are serious,” Longworth said. “It has taken us longer because they haven’t come on board, but we’re building a network. In four years, we’ll have a larger organization than they have.”
Longworth also argued that the groups’ support of legislation that remains “on the fringe,” like the mandatory ultrasound bill, is not enough to shake up the abortion-rights movement. “How many babies will actually be saved?” he asked. “I’d vote yes, but we have to be working to end abortions.”
“A lot of the people who have a negative view of the bill have participated in an abortion,” he also said. “They have to come to grips with the fact that they participated in taking their own child’s life.”
Sheila Hopkins, associate director of the Florida Catholic Conference, says her group’s support of the mandatory-ultrasound bill shouldn’t be dismissed.
“On any bills or initiatives, the FCC looks at constitutionality and any possibility that it could be used to reaffirm Roe,” she says. “We support efforts to end abortion, including strengthening abortion clinic regulations, parental notice provisions and ultrasound requirements, among others. Incremental changes continue to advance the goal of ending abortion.”
Though she has said in previous interviews that the Catholic Conference supports the reasoning behind the personhood movement, Hopkins is adamant that a fetal personhood initiative will only further the pro-choice cause. “We are very clear about our concern that this would bring a court challenge that could ultimately result in a reaffirmation of Roe v. Wade,” she says.
Hopkins also takes issue with Longworth’s claim that “a lot of” Personhood Florida opponents “have participated in an abortion.”
“I think that is a bad assumption that people oppose the personhood amendment because they have participated in an abortion,” she says. “In the Catholic Church, we offer reconciliation and healing for those who have participated in an abortion.”
One group that has fought hard against Longworth’s personhood initiative is Progress Florida, a nonprofit group that has campaigned against the amendment in the past.
Progress Florida Executive Director Mark Ferullo blasts Longworth for saying many of his critics have “participated in taking their own child’s life.”
“This is just a jaw-dropping statement that further illustrates how on the fringe these people are,” Ferullo says. “They aren’t getting much support, so that angst is coming forth through these absurd, rhetorical flourishes. We all say things when we’re frustrated, but this one is really beyond the pale.”
Though he isn’t surprised by Personhood Florida’s lack of support from large conservative organizations like the Family Policy Council and the Florida Catholic Conference, Ferullo says Progress Florida is well aware of the abilities of a group like Personhood.
“Thus far, this has gone largely unreported,” he says, “but we feel that Personhood still has the capability to pull in heavy-hitting supporters at the last minute.”