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Initiative seeks to redefine ‘personhood’

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By Emily Stifler Managing Editor

MONTANA – As typical with any discussion about abortion, the arguments are heated.

Across Montana, people are petitioning for a ballot initiative that would redefine “personhood” under state law as starting at conception. Meanwhile, opponents are collecting signatures of those pledging not to sign the petition.

Constitutional Initiative No. 108 would amend a due process clause of the Montana Constitution to define “person” as “all human beings at every stage of development, including the stage of fertilization or conception, regardless of age, health, level of functioning, or condition of dependency.” It would grant rights at every stage of biological development, including fertilization or conception.

Dr. Annie Bukacek, president of the Montana Pro-Life Coalition, filed the proposed ballot measure.

“I sponsored CI 108 because, of the known prolife legislative strategies, legal attestation of the personhood of the unborn is the only one with the purpose of abolishing the right to kill innocent unborn children,” Dr. Bukacek wrote in an email.

To get CI 108 on the November ballot, the coalition needs close to 49,000 qualified signatures by June 22; those must include at least 10 percent in 40 of the 100 legislative districts.

Planned Parenthood of Montana is leading the opposition to the initiative. Its director Stacy James appeared at an April 20 panel discussion at MSU, alongside the organization’s national CEO Cecile Richards and Sen. Jon Tester.

“It would impact women and families of Montana,” James said, speaking about CI 108. James says the proposed law could ban abortion, along with many forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization, and could “also investigate if you have a miscarriage. For women who’ve gone through the tragedy of a miscarriage, you’d have to explain how that happened and if you were responsible. We cannot let that happen.”

Bukacek says this is not true, and that the bill “should not affect IVG, emergency contraception or cause investigations of women.” Personhood USA, which is based in Colorado, also disputes these claims, calling them “scare tactics.”

The proposed bill is similar to two previous initiatives, CI 100 and CI 102, neither of which made it onto a ballot.

‘Personhood’ bills and amendments have been proposed in several states, including North Dakota, Iowa, Georgia, Montana, Texas and Oklahoma.

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