‘Personhood’ amendment likely to fizzle in Montana statehouse

Conservative activists are celebrating the latest antiabortion bill to wind its way through a state Legislature — this time in Montana. The bill seeks to challenge the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

But before they party hearty, a quick check of state law is in order. It reveals that the likelihood of a constitutional “personhood” amendment to give fertilized eggs civil rights is as flat as stale champagne.

The bill in Montana is similar in aim to Colorado’s Amendment 48, which was shellacked by a 3-to-1 margin at the ballot box. But Montana’s lawmakers must first pass the bill with 100 votes in order to move it to the state ballot, where voters will decide whether to amend the state Constitution to say that the “protection of unborn human life is a compelling state interest.”

State “personhood” backers hope to push their fight back to the U.S. Supreme Court under the guise of giving zygotes 14th Amendment protections that would criminalize abortion. Opponents counter that contraception, in-vitro fertilization and stem-cell research would be threatened, and miscarriages could be prosecuted if legal recognition of fertilized eggs were upheld.

However, the Montana Senate racked up just 28 “aye” votes, actually losing one vote and gaining three more “no” votes in the bill’s final tally. It goes next to the House, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

The Missoulian notes, in a recent story citing a Planned Parenthood spokesperson, that “there are 46 solidly pro-choice representatives in the House, leaving only 54 to vote in favor …”

28 + 54 = far short of the 100 vote minimum necessary to pass the antiabortion measure to the voters.

Should the question go before the voters, the premise faces a very tough public-perception hurdle. An Oct. 2008 MSU-Billings poll reports 53 percent of Montanans support abortion rights (pdf), with 34 percent opposing, 11 percent characterized as “neither/depends” and 1 percent undecided.

A similar bill before the North Dakota state Senate also faces an uncertain future.

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Wendy Norris

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