CARSON CITY — The "personhood" amendment petition drive beginning in Nevada is part of a national effort by a religious organization to come up with a legal argument that can be used to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision allowing abortion.
PersonhoodUSA co-founder Keith Mason said Friday that his Christian anti-abortion group is trying in 30 states to pass laws or constitutional amendments that define all human beings as "persons" from the moment of "biological development" to the natural end of their lives.
On behalf of Personhood Nevada, the group’s state affiliate, veteran Las Vegas conservative activist Richard Ziser filed a petition Wednesday with the Nevada secretary of state that specifies government may not deprive "persons" of "life, liberty and property" without due process of law.
Similar petitions to amend state constitutions are being circulated in six other states, including Colorado, where voters last year rejected it by a 73 percent to 27 percent vote.
The "personhood" language is significant, according to Ziser, because of the majority opinion authored by Justice Harry Blackmun in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision allowing abortion.
Blackmun said if "personhood" could be established for a fetus, then "the fetus’ right to life would be guaranteed" by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
By passing state constitutional amendments that define a person as beginning with biological development, Ziser said they could make a case that answers Blackmun and could challenge Roe v. Wade.
"It would be great to get a case before the Supreme Court," Mason said. "But the Supreme Court will change with society, and we hope to change society."
He said there have been 50 million abortions in the United states since 1973.
But the National Review, a conservative political magazine, stated in a Sept. 16 story that Personhood has misinterpreted Blackmun’s view. Writer Clark Forsythe said it was clear Blackmun was being "ironic" and not "seriously entertaining personhood."
Bobbie Gang, president of the Nevada Women’s Lobby, said Thursday that she expects her organization or other pro-choice groups to file a legal challenge to the Personhood amendment within days.
The language in the amendment is so vague that people might not understand its motive, she said. The amendment does not even mention the word abortion.
Opponents have until Nov. 12 to challenge the language in the initiative.
Gang was one of the leaders of the drive that put Question 7 before Nevada voters in the 1990 election. Sixty-three percent of voters passed the question that made Roe v. Wade part of state law. That law cannot be changed without a vote of the people.
Ziser needs to collect 97,002 valid signatures of registered voters by Aug. 4 for the petition to be placed before voters in the November 2010 election. Voters must approve it both in the 2010 and 2012 elections before it could become part of the state constitution.
Besides stopping abortion, a goal of PersonhoodUSA is to prevent government from making end-of-life decisions for elderly people and from treating the handicapped and others as less than full human beings, Mason said.
In addition to allowing abortion, Mason said the U.S. Supreme Court "never has apologized" for its 1857 Dred Scott decision that slaves were property and not citizens protected by the Constitution.
But he and Ziser acknowledged that the petition might be opposed by some conservatives because it would prohibit abortion even in cases of rape or incest.
"We are not distinguishing between how one comes into the world as to whether they are a citizen or not," Mason said. "You do not have a right to take one’s life at the beginning of the life or at the end of the life."
Cases of rape or incest where children are born are "tragic," Mason said, but the children remain human beings who should be protected.
He said in Colorado one of his organization’s members is a woman who gave up a child born out of a rape, but she is now happy because she decided to let the child live.
Contact reporter Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.