Montana Catholic Conference Won’t Back Personhood-Abortion Ballot Proposal
by Steven Ertelt
March 4, 2008
Helena, MT (LifeNews.com) — The Montana Catholic Conference doesn’t plan to support a statewide ballot initiative that some pro-life advocates in the state are sponsoring. CI-100 would establish legal personhood for unborn children and could pave the way for banning abortions in the state, but not every pro-life group is on board with the idea.
The measure would define "a human being at all stages of human development or life, including the state of fertilization" in the state Constitution.
The Catholic bishops of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings and the Diocese of Helena commended the pro-life principles behind CI-100 but they recently issued a statement saying they have problems with the strategy behind it.
They said they don’t believe CI-100 "is the most beneficial venue to pursue necessary change" and indicated a concern that it would be overturned in court and add to the pro-Roe v. Wade legal precedent.
Moe Wosepka, executive director of the Montana Catholic Conference, spoke with the Great Falls Tribune about the decision not to endorse the initiative.
"It defines person without any exceptions and it affects several different parts of our state statutes," Wosepka said. "Since it affects such a wide range of laws with very little definition, I just don’t think it would ever stand up (in court)."
He said the bishops considered the proposal but decided against allowing parishes to officially endorse it or offer support for fundraising or signature gathering activities.
Members of the small Constitution Party of Montana, including state Rep. Rick Jore, worked with the Thomas More Legal Society to draft the initiative. It is one of several measures backers are pushing, including others in Colorado and Georgia.
A spokesman for the party, told the Tribune he was upset by the Catholic Conference’s decision.
Meanwhile, Right to Life of Montana has essentially taken a neutral position on the proposal and its director, Gregg Trude, pointed LifeNews.com to the organization’s bylaws which indicate support for the concept of human life beginning at conception.
"Right to Life of Montana’s goal is to enhance the value of and to seek the protection of all human life, from conception until natural death. The primary method of achieving this goal is public education and legislation," the group says.
Pro-abortion groups in Montana, including Planned Parenthood, NARAL’s Montana affiliate and Montana Women Vote, have formed a coalition against the pro-life proposal.
The Montana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Montana Human Rights Network are joining the opposition as well.
Montana NARAL calls the measure "an attempt to redefine when life begins and take away womens ability to make private medical decisions."
The initiatives language has been approved by the Attorney General and, to qualify, CI-100 needs signatures from 44,615 registered voters and those must break down into 10 percent of the voters in at least 40 of the 100 Montana House districts.
Jore and his supporters have until June 20 to get the signatures and he has formed a new ballot committee called Life for Montana to organize the effort.
Should it receive enough signatures, the measure would be placed on the 2008 ballot and spark a statewide abortion debate.
The state has long had problems with language from its constitution getting in the way of reducing abortions as it is one of a handful that have a privacy clause that its state supreme court has misinterpreted to mean that abortion should be legal without limits.
The Montana Supreme Court has previously ruled pro-life legislation unconstitutional on that basis despite federal courts saying the bills comply with federal constitutional requirements and similar bills allowed in other states.
Some pro-life advocates see the measure as not fully addressing the court’s decision and favor an amendment to make the privacy clause abortion neutral.
The Georgia Catholic Conference came under fire from other pro-life groups for opposing the measure there for the same strategic differences. LifeNews.com recently reported on the Colorado proposal and Catholic opinion there.