Put Personhood Amendments Aside, Focus on Ending Abortion

Opinion   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 10, 2011   |   3:01PM   |   Washington, DC

With the defeat of the personhood amendment in Mississippi, it’s time for the pro-life movement to put aside these amendments and focus on the task at hand: ending abortion and protecting unborn children under law.

The sponsors of the personhood amendments have a great goal — define human life starting at fertilization. After all, what pro-life advocate doesn’t understand that the scientific beginning of human life is at conception. Anyone who has passed 8th grade biology ought to understand that the coming together of sperm and egg confers into existence a unique human being with all of the DNA necessary to make them who they will be after nine months of growth and development.

However, as a legal strategy for ending abortion, personhood amendments are another matter entirely.

The Personhood Amendment Will Not Ban Abortion

As LifeNews reported, personhood language is nothing new — even the state of Texas, whose abortion prohibition became the subject of the Roe v. Wade case that toppled pro-life bans on abortion at the time, contained language declaring unborn children are persons starting at conception. Other states have followed suit with similar personhood language, but the Supreme Court has expressed again and again, in Roe, Akron, Webster, Casey and other prominent abortion cases, that such language can’t be used to end abortions. We’re going on almost four decades of states defining human life at fertilization, yet we’ve experienced the travesty of more than 54 million abortions.

Knowing the personhood amendment will not challenge abortion law or overturn Roe (at best the Supreme Court would uphold the language but declare it not applicable to abortion laws, at worst some top pro-life attorneys argue it could be used to reaffirm Roe and unlimited abortions) sponsors of the amendments are pushing forward with more of them for 2012 and beyond.

Voters in Pro-Life, Swing States Are Reluctant to Pass Personhood Amendments

The first votes on personhood amendments took place in Colorado, a formerly conservative red state that, thanks to an influx of new residents from places like California and New York, has swung purple. There’s a reason why Barack Obama came to Denver to launch his 2008 campaign. Colorado is a swing state that every political observer says is key to whether or not pro-abortion President Barack Obama gets another four years in office.

Yet, as a swing state that is far less liberal than the West Coast states or those in the northeast like Massachusetts, Colorado overwhelmingly defeated the personhood amendment. Twice.

The 2010 amendment lost by a 70-30 percentage point margin as Amendment 62 failed to gain a majority in any Colorado county. Colorado voters defeated Amendment 48 in 2008 by a 73-27 percentage margin. The 2010 Colorado personhood amendment received the support of more than 100,000 fewer voters than in 2008 — and that was in an election cycle that was a banner one for conservatives and Republicans.

Now the amendment has received a vote on one of the most solidly conservative and pro-life red states in the nation. Mississippi has passed virtually every pro-life law imaginable — to the point that just one abortion business remains in the state. Democratic presidential candidates don’t bother to campaign in Mississippi because it is so strongly conservative and it is so solidly pro-life that both of the gubernatorial candidates — Democrat and Republican — in Tuesday’s election were pro-life.

Yet, the amendment failed in Mississippi, and the 58-42 percentage point margin wasn’t close as the amendment failed by more than 130,000 votes out of nearly 800,000 cast. That 58-42 percentage point margin is the almost the same as the blowout of 1984 when Ronald Reagan beat Walter Mondale in one of the top five most lopsided races in presidential history.

As pro-life political scientist and abortion law researcher Michael New explains, if the amendment can’t win in Mississippi, it’s likely not going to win anywhere in the current political climate.

“It is difficult to see where Personhood proponents go from here. Tuesday’s election offered Personhood supporters their best opportunity for electoral success. They qualified a citizen initiative in Mississippi — among the most pro-life states in the country — during a low-turnout election in which Democrats fielded relatively weak statewide candidates,” he explains. “In spite of all this, the Mississippi Personhood Amendment still lost by a double-digit margin.”

Pushing Personhood Amendments Further Damages the Pro-Life Movement

Knowing that the personhood amendment lost by a landslide twice in a swing state and a lopsided 17-point margin in arguably the most pro-life state in the nation, there’s little realistic expectation that the personhood amendment will be approved anywhere in the country. As the amendment continues to rack up defeats, support from pro-life advocates willing to invest in what will almost assuredly be a losing proposition will wane. Media reports will continue focusing on the pro-life movement losing at the polls and the pro-abortion side will continue gloating that they are in the majority despite clear polling data showing America is pro-life.

The damage to the pro-life movement from suffering defeat after defeat in the polls will become more and more palpable as the losses mount.

As New notes:  “Personhood supporters can rightly claim that they received unfair treatment from the media. However, pro-life proposals will attract negative media coverage wherever they are launched.”

New also makes the valid point that pro-life advocates have won very few victories at the polls even when the ballot measures have been ones where polling data shows two-thirds of the American people support the abortion limit, such as parental notification.

“Another lesson is that historically, the initiative process has not been kind to pro-lifers,” he says. “Pro-life initiatives often do less well than expected, because abortion opponents are typically able to raise and spend more money than pro-lifers. Overall, pro-lifers have not fared well with citizen initiatives. Since Roe v. Wade,  the pro-life movement has used the initiative successfully on only four occasions. Public-funding bans were enacted in Colorado and Arkansas in 1984 and 1986.  Parental-involvement laws were passed in Colorado and Alaska in 1998 and 2005, respectively.   It should be noted that public-funding cutoffs and parental-notice laws are harder to demonize, and enjoy  broader support, than personhood measures.”

“In the aftermath of the Tuesday’s election, Personhood proponents stated their intention to move forward with a revised version of the Personhood Amendment in Mississippi and to pursue Personhood Initiatives in other states.  One has to admire their persistence and devotion to the pro-life cause. That having been said, Tuesday’s results should really give supporters of the Personhood strategy pause,” New says.

The question must be asked:  At what point do some pro-life voters become so discouraged that they give up on aggressively trying to protect the unborn because of continued defeats at the polls. I suggest we’ve reached that point already, but more losses will assuredly hurt the pro-life movement in terms of its viability and standing with the American people. It’s no surprise that positive grassroots efforts that show discernible results — like 40 Days for Life — resonate with pro-life people. But defeat after defeat zaps the enthusiasm of pro-life people — as it has already in Colorado.

Personhood Amendments Get the Pro-Life Movement Off Message

Yes, there is educational value in personhood amendments, but the media treatment of them and the inaccurate change in focus from pro-abortion groups makes it so any educational value is lost.

First, the media and pro-abortion groups incorrectly make the amendments appear to ban everything from in-vitro fertilization to birth control to contraception. While some pro-life advocates oppose the use of birth control and contraception banning them is a massively losing proposition with the public. Support for banning abortion is significantly higher than for banning birth control and having the pro-life movement appear to be pushing such a birth control or contraception ban is always a losing issue at the polls. Getting off of the message of stopping abortions and protecting unborn children hurts the pro-life movement overall and puts us further away from stopping abortions.

“Furthermore, the coverage that the Personhood Amendment received from the mainstream media was almost uniformly negative, and abortion-industry operatives spread considerable misinformation about the purported threat personhood posed to contraception,” New observes.

New makes a second point on how the amendments are detrimental in terms of public messaging:

“There are some lessons to be learned from this. First, many polls consistently show that most Americans are uncomfortable with abortion, but think it should be a legal option in hard-case circumstances such as rape, incest, and life of the mother. Now I, along with many other pro-life activists, think that the unborn deserve legal protection in all situations, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their conception. However, this is not a view shared by most Americans — frustrating though it might be for pro-lifers.”

The pro-life movement will not win, currently, if the debate is banning birth control or banning rape and incest abortions rather than focusing on stopping the 98% of abortions done for convenience reasons.

Time to Rally Behind the Real Strategy to End Abortion

If pro-life advocates truly want to end abortion, the strategy of changing the Supreme Court via changing the presidency and makeup of the Senate is the only avenue to ban abortions and the only objective pro-life advocates should be focusing on over the next 12 months. When the Supreme Court has a majority ready to overturn Roe, then and only then will it be possible to promote abortion bans or Human Life Amendments that have the ability to truly ban abortions.

The pro-life movement has had to endure a long waiting game to get to the point where abortion can be ended. Some pro-life people say they’re tired for waiting for the point at which Roe can be overturned and bans on abortion can be upheld. That’s understandable. Unfortunately, it is the only legal solution for ending abortion. No law ending abortion or protecting unborn children will survive until and unless the Supreme Court is willing to uphold it.

Thankfully, we may be one vote away from overturning Roe. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are on record as ready to repeal that terrible case. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito have already overturned one pro-abortion precedent by reversing the original case prohibiting bans on partial-birth abortion. They appear ready to join Scalia and Thomas in reversing Roe entirely.

That’s why the next presidential election is monumentally important. In order to defeat Obama and ultimately stop abortions, personhood amendments must be put aside in 2012 so the pro-life community can focus on the number one goal:  installing a pro-life president who will put the nation in a position to legally protect unborn children.

Whether your position on abortion is to have a personhood amendment, an abortion ban, allowing the states to make their own laws on abortions or to at least overturn what even some “pro-choice” and liberal scholars agree is one of the worst cases of jurisprudence in Supreme Court history, the courts must be changed. To do that, we must defeat Barack Obama in 2012 and elect to the Senate candidates who will vote to confirm justices who abide by the rule of law rather than making it up from the bench.

Any time, money and effort spent on another amendment that has no chance of stopping any abortions at present should be dedicated to defeating Obama and installing a pro-life president so Roe can be overturned and abortion ended. Without putting amendments aside and putting the focus on the 2012 elections, abortion on demand could remain in place for another 38 years if Obama gets four more years to stack the court with abortion advocates.