A group of anti-abortion activists has unrolled a new strategy: Stretch the legal definition of "person" in state constitutions to cover a freshly fertilized egg in a woman's womb.
"We are defining the word 'person' as a human being … regardless of age, level of functioning, perceived ability or disability," said Cal Zastrow, co-founder of Personhood USA, which formed in 2008. "When there is an innocent person, the law should protect them."
Proponents in Colorado and Mississippi succeeded in getting these "personhood" measures on the ballots. In six other states, including Missouri, volunteers are collecting signatures.
The idea that life begins at conception is not new in the abortion wars. But some established anti-abortion groups are not backing this new drive, calling it a flawed strategy.
"If the amendment is meant to be a direct attack on Roe v. Wade, it is poorly advised," said a statement released by Missouri Right to Life. "Direct attacks in law, as in war, lead to defeat if they are mounted in the wrong circumstances. It gains nothing to act without a strategy that has a decent chance of succeeding."
Abortion-rights advocates see the push as a backdoor way to strip away women's reproductive rights. They say the movement threatens in-vitro fertilization, stem-cell research and some forms of contraception, including the intrauterine device.
"It's an abortion ban by any other name," said Ted Miller, a spokesman with NARAL Pro-Choice America. "They can't sell it to the public by being upfront and honest, so they're using rhetorical deception."
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