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Pro-lifers seek to redefine "person"

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Anti-abortion activists are collecting signatures for a citizen initiative that would amend the Montana Constitution to grant due process rights to unborn children, and essentially equate abortion with murder.

Annie Bukacek, a Kalispell-based physician and president of the Montana ProLife Coalition, says she's enlisted 500 churches and thousands of volunteers around the state in the effort to place Constitutional Initiative 108 on the 2012 general election ballot.

This is the latest in a series of legislative and citizen initiatives in Montana over the last five years intended to define a "person" as a human being at any stage of development, including, according to the proposed amendment's language, "the stage of fertilization or conception, regardless of age, health, level of functioning or condition of dependency."

Montana joins several other states—including Oregon, Nevada, Ohio, Florida and Mississippi—with citizen-led "personhood" initiatives that are "going strong," according to Jennifer Mason, spokesman for Colorado-based Personhood USA, a national advocacy group. Next week, Mississippi voters could make that state the first in the country to pass a personhood amendment.

"Recognizing the personhood rights of the unborn child is just recognizing that they have the basic human rights all of us have, including the right not to be killed," Mason says. "Many of us already agree that abortion is murder, it's just legalized murder, and a personhood amendment would make that murder illegal."

Julianna Crowley, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Montana, calls Bukacek's effort "very extreme" and one that could weaken the state's constitutional right to privacy and lead to government interference in private medical decisions. "But it also has much larger implications," Crowley says. "It could threaten stem-cell research, in-vitro fertilization and also birth control."

Bukacek says the Montana ProLife Coalition has 10 times as many volunteers as it did two years ago when it failed to gather enough signatures to put a similar amendment on the ballot. "There's a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and momentum," she says.

Her group must collect signatures from 10 percent of the qualified voters in Montana, including 10 percent of voters in each of the 40 legislative house districts—a total of 48,674 signatures.

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